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What are an unmarried father's rights in a child custody case?

If you're a Rockford man who has fathered a child and you are not married to the mother, you may have questions about what your rights and responsibilities will be towards that child. This is especially true if your relationship with the mother comes to an end and you are concerned that you need to exercise your legal rights. Can unmarried fathers fight for child custody or visitation?

For an unmarried father to seek custody or visitation, it will first be necessary to prove to the court that you are, in fact, the child's father. Otherwise known as establishing paternity, this only requires both parents' signatures on a form if there is no dispute. But when paternity is disputed, DNA testing will be required. A court can order a DNA test and provide an order legally confirming (assuming the results do) that the man asking for the test is the biological father of the child.

With paternity established, a father can seek visitation or custody of the child. This may be through a negotiated parenting plan or parenting agreement. The agreement spells out what the parents have agreed to regarding where the child will live, parenting time details, and how decisions will be handled relating to medical, education, and other issues. It may be necessary to go to court, however, for an order determining these matters if the parents cannot agree on them.

Here, unmarried fathers have typically had a much more difficult time convincing a court to award them sole custody if the mother is already raising the child. They generally will need to go along with the court's order regarding some form of shared visitation and custody, or try to demonstrate that the mother has not been the main person taking care of the child. They may also try to argue the unfitness of the child's mother.

The information here is intended as a general overview only, not as specific legal advice for anyone involved with a child custody matter. A family law professional can help determine the best strategy to proceed in an individual child custody case.

Source: Findlaw.com, "Child Visitation, Child Custody and Unmarried Fathers," accessed on Nov. 17, 2017

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