child custody concept and home behind it

How Does Child Custody Work for Unmarried Parents?

Child custody refers to a legally binding set of agreements between unmarried co-parents. It dictates the rights and responsibilities each parent has towards their child or children. 

If a child’s parents were previously married, custody of the children will take part during the divorce process. If there was never a marriage, the mother is given automatic custody in most states. This means that an unmarried mother does not need to petition for child custody, yet the father usually does.  

With the help of the services of a child custody lawyer, parents outside of marriage can protect and establish their child custody rights. Let’s take a look at the steps in this process.

File a Custody Order 

If you are an unmarried father and would like custody of your child, the first thing to do is file a custody order with the court. Parents can file the order online. It requires filling out forms and paying a filing fee. Because child custody law varies by state, it is a good idea to at least consult with a lawyer before doing this.

Establish Paternity 

In all states, the rights of a father depend on establishing paternity. The procedure for establishing paternity varies from state to state. In some places, having your child’s name on their birth certificate is sufficient, or you and your co-parent might be able to sign a legal form in front of a notary.

However, some states require an unmarried father to take a paternity test. This is especially important if the paternity is contested or uncertain. A medical lab or a state agency takes care of paternity tests.

Establishing paternity will obligate you to make regular child support payments even if you do not seek custody. If you refuse to take a paternity test, your co-parent can seek a court order forcing you to do so. 

Make a Custody Plan 

If you and your co-parent agree on a custody plan, submit it to the court, which will turn into a legally binding order. 

Child custody plans cover the amount of time each parent spends with the child and child support payments. Other criteria may come to play as well, such as how you and your co-parent make medical, educational, and other major decisions for your child. You may establish whether you and your co-parent must get permission from each other before traveling with the child out of state. 

The most useful child custody plans are thorough and clear. The more details you and your co-parent hammer out now, the less room for disagreement there will be in the future. Be sure that your child custody plan addresses your family’s unique circumstances. For instance, if your child has a medical condition, this should be addressed in the custody plan.  

Keep documented records of all aspects of your custody plan formulation process. These could include emails and texts. You may wish to invest in special software to help coordinate this process as well. 

If you and your co-parent cannot agree on your own, you may wish to proceed with mediation or a trial. In both of these cases, a third party will review the circumstances of your family’s situation and formulate the plan that they deem to be in your child’s best interest. 

The custody rights of an unmarried father can be difficult to navigate on your own. However, this is a common legal procedure. An experienced child custody lawyer can make your process easier while protecting your interests as well as those of your child. 

To request a consultation for your child custody case, call the Law Office of Paul Bowen at (727) 773-1554.