Should unmarried mothers offer a father visitation rights?
The simple answer is yes. However, each circumstance is unique. A court's stance on visitation rights is that an ongoing relationship with both parents serves the best interests of the child. However, there are some reasons why a mother may not want to offer visitation rights. Let's explore the nuances involving visitation rights and unmarried moms:
Reasons to Encourage Visitation Rights
Firstly, an unmarried mother should understand the specific child custody and visitation laws of her state. Some states consider an unmarried mother to have full, sole custody of a child, while other states consider two unmarried parents to have joint custody of a child. If the mother lives in a state that recognizes a joint custody arrangement, then the child's father automatically has visitation rights, if the child's mother does not specifically file for sole custody.
Visitation Rights Benefit the Child and the Mother
- If for no other reason, unmarried moms should admit that they could use some time to themselves. Not only will visitation with the child give mothers a much needed break, a court will also encourage a continuous relationship, as that serves the best interests of the child.
- Children can benefit from different parenting styles, as well. However, it's important that parents remain united so that the child doesn't believe he/she can use one parent against the other.
- Unmarried mothers often need help. Visitation time can be arranged around the mom's late day at work or give mom time to exercise.
Learn to Work With Your Ex
Let's face it, there's a good chance that the father of your child will be around for the better part of your life. It will make both of your lives easier if you have a continuous, communicative relationship with each other. For the sake of a harmonious relationship, and at least for the sake of the child, unmarried mothers should consider offering the father some sort of visitation rights. After a formal or informal agreement in court, parents may want to do some things together with the child. Initially, it may seem like a bad idea, but parents should consider how many occasions they have to spend time with each other such as birthdays, graduations, religious ceremonies, etc. It's probably easiest to try to get along.
Reasons to Refrain from Offering Visitation Rights
There are legitimate reasons why an unmarried mother may want to refrain from offering visitation rights to a father. The reasons include:
- Domestic violence directed toward the child, a sibling, or the child's mother
- Parent resides in an unsafe location (i.e. in a questionable neighborhood or with dangerous individuals living in the home).
- Child does not want to visit - This is a difficult situation, as the courts frown upon allowing the child to "opt out" of court-ordered visits. In general, most courts want to encourage the relationship between the child and each of his/her parents. In cases where the child does not want to participate in visits, the court will usually want to know why. In order to protect herself, a mom in this situation should make sure that she is not "bad-mouthing" the father in front of the child, and she should work with the child and the father to resolve any issues and resume visitations as soon as possible.
- Immediate danger to the child - If the child is in danger from anyone while in the father's care, an unmarried mother should not encourage the visitation. Instead, a mother should allow the courts to decide how to create a workable visitation schedule.
In general, if an unmarried mother does not want the father to visit with the child, the mom should be aware that a father may sue for visitation rights or child custody rights. In that case, a court will most likely offer a father some form of visitation, barring a father's potential dangerous past.
A court may offer the following alternative visitation arrangements:
- Supervised visitation
- Visitation at a neutral location, separate from the father's home
The Importance of Establishing an Agreement in Writing
If an unmarried mother decides to offer visitation rights to the father outside of the court, the parents should put the agreement in writing. If there's a dispute as to what was decided, a court will turn to the informal agreement between the parties as evidence of the parent's intent to compromise on a visitation schedule.
For more information about visitation rights, you should read your state- specific visitation and child custody laws or you may speak with a qualified attorney.