Child custody can be a contentious issue for parents who are going through divorce. But what about parents who were never married? What rights does the unmarried father of a child have to sue for custody?
According to the Louisiana Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (RS 13:1801), any biological parent has the right to seek visitation rights or child custody. Their rights do not hinge on whether they are married to the child’s other parent, or even whether they were married when the child was born.
The court takes the best interest of the child into account in these cases, just as they would in cases involving a married couple. Unless there is evidence suggesting otherwise, the court makes child custody decisions assuming that the involvement of both parents will benefit the child.
At Stanley-Wallace Law, we’ve worked with Louisiana parents time and again to help them come to agreeable arrangements regarding visitation and custody rights. That being said, we know many fathers are worried that the court may feel compelled to give the mother more time with the children. So what are some steps an unmarried father can take to secure visitation or custody rights?
- Establishing Paternity
In order to gain access to father’s rights, fathers who were not married to the child’s mother when the child was born must legally establish paternity. This usually means that both parents sign and file an acknowledgement of paternity with the appropriate state agency or with the court.
If paternity is disputed, DNA testing can be used to determine paternity with the legal process ending in a court order stating whether or not the man in question is the biological father of the child.
Legally establishing paternity allows an unmarried father to seek visitation or other custody rights, which can either be negotiated with the other parent through a parenting plan, or established by court order.
- Negotiating a parenting plan
Many parents negotiate a parenting agreement or parenting plan, often with the advice of their family law attorneys. The purpose of a parenting plan is to mutually agree on the details of how your child will be raised, without having to take the issue to court.
Parenting plans can dictate many things about how the child is raised, including some of the following:
- Which parent has primary custody
- Visitation schedules
- Decision-making responsibilities about the child’s education
- Decision-making responsibilities about the child’s health
- Decision-making responsibilities about the child’s religion
- Decision-making responsibilities about the child’s extracurricular activities
Visitation rights of unmarried fathers typically depend on their relationship with the child. If there is any history of child abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, or similar issues, that will be taken into consideration.
- Court Orders for Visitation and Custody Rights
When parents are not able to agree on a parenting plan, either may petition the court for child visitation or custody rights. Courts decide visitation and other custody issues based on the best interest of the child through a contested hearing in court.
This type of hearing usually results in a court order determining visitation and custody rights. If you are entering a contested hearing to decide a custody or visitation issue, it’s important that you have an experienced Louisiana family law attorney by your side to represent your interests.
Parents who agree on their own parenting plan often file it with the court and ask the judge to incorporate it into a court order, so there is a means of enforcing the agreed upon parenting rights in the future.
The court generally works on the premise that children will benefit from having both of their parents in their life. If this is not the case, the parent needs to present evidence that granting visitation or custody rights to the other parent would likely be harmful to the child. Examples of this type of evidence would be a history of domestic violence or drug problems.
Courts recognize the rights of unmarried fathers, but rarely award them sole custody of a child that is already being raised by the mother. Unmarried fathers seeking sole custody would need to show the court by clear and convincing evidence that joint custody is not in the child’s best interest.
Hire a family law attorney in Louisiana today
No one wants to go to court over custody or visitation rights. But if a lawsuit is your last resort, it’s important to have an attorney who knows the ins and outs of Louisiana law by your side to represent you.
If you are an unmarried father and you need to discuss custody rights and visitation in more detail, get in touch with one of the dedicated Slidell family law attorneys at Stanley-Wallace Law. We have the experience you need on your side. Call 985-288-4621 today to schedule a free consultation.