The courts acknowledge the rights of a biological parent to have time with their child or be included in child custody. Courts will always consider what they believe to be the best interests of the child as the decide issues about child custody and visitation. The courts are inclined to believe that the involvement of both parents is good for the child. Here is what you need to do to make your case.
1. Establish That You Are The Father Of The Child. If you are not married to the woman who gives birth to your child, there are two pathways to proving your paternity. The first is that the mother and you agree that you are the father and fill out the proper legal paperwork that names you as the child’s father. If your role is in dispute, DNA testing will be needed. This is a legal procedure that will end when the court issues an order stating you are or are not the father.
2. Child Custody and Visitation Needs to be Established. Again, this is a legal process. And, again, if you can come to an agreement with the mother of the child to make a mutual decision — called a parenting agreement or parenting plan — it can be presented to the court. This agreement should cover everything from which parent will have primary custody or if there will be shared custody. Details such as who will make decisions for the child’s education, health care and religious upbringing should be included. Once you have this agreement, it can be presented to the court for approval. You want the agreement to be court approved and legally binding.
3. A Parent can Petition the Court. If the mother and father of the child cannot reach agreement, either one can ask the court for a hearing. This is called a contested hearing since there is disagreement between the two parents. The court will then decide the custody and visitation issues based on the best interests of the child. In general, allowing fathers – unmarried or otherwise – is usually considered in the child’s best interest unless extenuating circumstances apply.
4. Can You Ask for Sole Custody? A parent can ask for sole custody of their child, but, in most cases, there must be a compelling reason for the court to act. If one parent may cause harm to the child, if domestic violence or drug problems are proven, these would be among the valid reasons for the court to consider sole custody. For an unmarried father to gain sole custody he might need to show that the mother is unfit or prove he has been the child’s primary caregiver.
It is easy to see that an unmarried father has to travel a legal road that may be a difficult one. Having an experienced family law attorney representing him is an important consideration. A family law lawyer knows the State’s law and what documents are needed. The attorney can prepare all of these needed legal documents to help the father win a voice in raising the child. The attorney can help make sure that the rights of an unmarried father are legally acknowledged and the father has a role in the upbringing of the child.