The number of children born to unmarried partners in the United States is rising steadily. Child custody proceedings for married parties may differ from those of unmarried parents, depending on state or local laws. However, child custody proceedings involving unmarried partners tend to have unique issues that must be considered to guarantee the child’s best interests.
Let’s explore the rights of both parents in child custody proceedings involving unmarried parents.
1. Mother’s rights
In situations where the child’s parents are unmarried, the child custody rights lie with the mother. The mother acquires the child custodian rights if she’s not wed to the father.
In some states, the custody rights lie with the mother if the kid’s father does not appear on the official birth certificate. The mother retains the custody rights over who sees and interacts with the child until the father proves paternity in a court of law.
When custodian rights fall to the mother, she decides where the child lives, goes to school and can claim benefits on the child’s behalf.
2. Father’s rights
Even when both parents are unmarried, the father may enjoy equal parental rights to the mother if their name appears on the child’s birth certificate. If the name is missing on the child’s birth certificate, the father must prove his paternity rights in court before claiming custody rights. States have different ways of establishing paternity, with DNA tests being the most common.
However, due to the delicate nature of child custody procedures, fathers who desire custodian rights should consult a family law expert for guidance on local laws.
3. Top considerations when awarding child custody rights
Courts often rely on many factors when deciding child custody cases to secure the child’s best interests. In some states, the parent’s sex is a major determinant leading to women retaining custodian rights in most cases.
However, the judge will also consider the parents’ mental and physical well-being, drug use, or domestic violence records. This consideration ensures the child grows up in a conducive environment. Additionally, the court also considers the parents working patterns, income levels of both parents, and who has been taking care of the child prior to the court case.
It becomes even more complicated if unmarried parents still cohabitate in the same house. Though the mother enjoys automatic child custody rights, the father may enjoy custody rights if they prove they have had significant involvement in the child’s upbringing.