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Unmarried Parents and Custody Rights

Help for Unmarried Parents Seeking Child Custody


For unmarried parents, child custody laws differ from state to state. Some states require unmarried mothers to file for child custody, while other states presume that an unmarried mother automatically has custody. In either case, though, unmarried fathers can still file for custody and visitation rights, even if they’re not listed on the birth certificate. Here are some common questions about custody rights for unmarried parents:

Related: Child Custody Laws in All 50 States | Divorce and Custody

  1. I didn’t put my ex’s name on the birth certificate, but he’s now saying that he wants to file for custody. Can he do this? Yes. Even if a birth father is not listed on the birth certificate, he can still file for child custody and/or visitation.

  2. My ex and I have agreed that I will have primary custody of our baby once she’s born. However, he wants to have regular visitation. Do the courts typically grant overnight visitation right away? Most courts will not grant overnights until a child is at least three. In the meantime, shorter, more frequent visits are encouraged so a solid bond can be established early on.

  3. I want my baby’s father to be involved in her life, but he keeps skipping out on visitations. Will taking him to court help? While the courts do grant visitation rights, they aren’t in the business of forcing parents to exercise those rights. Consider talking with your ex about why he’s reluctant to exercise his rights and how you can help him gain confidence in his own parenting skills.

  4. I’ve been raising my son for four years by myself. Now my ex, who’s never been involved in my son’s life, has decided to marry his new girlfriend and wants to file for custody. Is he just trying to get out of paying child support? And should I be worried? Given his lack of participation in your son’s life up until this point, he would have to prove that you are an unfit mother in order to win child custody. Even though that's unlikely, you should speak with a lawyer about your case and begin to prepare yourself for the possibility that he will at least be given visitation with your son.

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