Establishing father's rights as an unmarried father

Establishing father's rights as an unmarried father

On behalf of Aaron & Aaron, Attorneys at Law posted in Child Custody on Monday, June 8, 2015.

Both biological parents have the right to pursue child custody and child visitation, regardless of whether they were ever married. Married fathers, or once married fathers, do not automatically have a better claim to child custody rights compared to unmarried fathers. Rather, the court operates under the assumption that the child benefits more when both parents are involved in his or her life.

However, unmarried fathers may have a more complicated process for establishing father's rights simply because they must establish paternity. If both the father and mother voluntarily sign a paternity acknowledgement, then the process is simple, but if there is a dispute, then the father must complete DNA tests. He may also have to go through more legal steps, including questioning by the court. Once paternity is proved, then he may file for his child custody rights.

Many parents will cooperatively develop a parenting plan either before, during, or even after the court process. This plan provides details about who has primary custody, the visitation schedule, how decisions about the child will be made, and more. If the parents cannot come to an agreement on a parenting plan, then they will have to participate in court hearings, in which the judge will decide on such details based on the child's best interests.

If a parent later decides that he or she is unhappy with the child custody and/or visitation agreement, then he or she may petition for an agreement modification. Once a mother has already been raising the child for a period of time, fathers rarely win sole custody rights unless they prove that the mother is unfit for the role. However, courts are often open to allowing fathers access to their father's rights in either sharing custody or visiting the child regularly.