Are you a father who was never married to his child’s mother? If so, you might be concerned about the rights you have toward your child. Whether or not you are still romantically involved with your child’s mother, you do have rights toward your biological child. In most cases, children who have a relationship with both parents are better off than they would be if they were not in contact with one of those parents, so it is most likely in your child’s best interest for you to be involved. Keep reading to learn about unmarried fathers rights to visitation and custody.
Due to biology, the person who gives birth to a child is legally seen as the child’s mother (unless the baby is placed for adoption or her parental rights are terminated). If the mother is married, then her husband is legally the child’s father; there are no additional steps for him to take to ensure he will have his parental rights. In the case of an unmarried father, however, paternity is not assumed and must be established. If your baby is not yet born, you must establish paternity at the birth.
This can be as simple as filling out an affidavit of paternity. Once your child’s mother signs it and is on the birth certificate, you have all the rights and responsibilities that a married father has. You can fill out the affidavit of paternity later, as well, and your name can be added to your child’s birth certificate. This will generally require a city hall trip (or the equivalent administrative building in your municipality). It is a quick and relatively simple process if your child’s mother agrees that you are the child’s father.
If there are questions about paternity, then you might need to have a DNA test to see if you are, in fact, the child’s father. This is often done by swabbing your inner cheek and your child’s inner cheek to see your DNA matches. In some cases, a blood test might be done. These tests are very accurate and will tell you what you need to know. If you are the father, you can pursue your rights to visitation and custody.
Creating a Parenting Plan
Often, the family court does not need to decide when each parent will see their child. This is the case whether the parents were married or not. Instead, the parents can work together to create a parenting plan and decide:
- Where the child will live.
- Which school they’ll go to (if they are school-aged).
- How much time they’ll spend with each parent.
A judge will sign off on the plan once it is in order. If you can speak amicably to your ex, this is the least expensive route to take in securing your right to spend time with your child. The possibilities are nearly endless. If you and your child’s mother decide that you will each have roughly equal time with the child, then you might switch off each week, follow a 5-5-2-2 schedule, or work out some other plan.
It might be that the child will spend the school year living in one house and visiting the other parent on weekends, then during school breaks and the summer, live at the other home and visit the first parent. Whatever is in the child’s best interest and considers both of your schedules should be done. And if you decide that your child should live with one parent most of the time and visit the other one every other weekend and for a few weeks in the summer, that is fine too. The goal should be to allow each parent and the child to cultivate a loving relationship.
Fighting for Custody
In some cases, of course, there will not be an agreement. Your child’s mother might not want you involved with the child at all. In other cases, you might feel that your child’s other parent is not providing a suitable living situation for your child, and you might want to pursue custody. All of these are reasons to petition the court to assert your rights.
As your child’s biological father, you can petition the court to allow you visitation, joint physical and legal custody, or even full custody. Be aware that one parent is awarded full custody (also called sole custody) while the other parent is fit and wanting to be involved is rare. But if you feel that your child is not being cared for properly, this still might be something you wish to investigate.
If extenuating circumstances prevent you from getting any custody or visitation, then those need to be addressed. For example, if you have a history of domestic violence or child abuse, you might be limited to supervised visitation. It would be best if you still took the chance that you are given to create a relationship with your child. Remember that in time, you might qualify for unsupervised visitation. Other extenuating circumstances might include:
- Drug abuse
- Untreated severe mental illness
- History of abandonment or neglect
You might be told that you need to go into a rehabilitation program or take anger management classes. If you want to have custody or visitation, you will need to do what the judge tells you to do. Getting your rightful visitation or custody does not necessarily mean that you will need to hire a high-priced private attorney.
You can learn to represent yourself with the help of a legal advocacy group like National Family Solutions. We can help you determine whether our services would be enough to help you to assert unmarried fathers rights. We also have the resources you need for your case, from counseling referrals to parent evaluators. Also, we can keep track of deadlines and documentation needs for you. Contact us to learn more about unmarried fathers rights to visitation and custody.