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Child Custody & Unmarried Parents



Child custody arrangements dont just affect couples who are getting divorced-parents who are unmarried must also negotiate child custody agreements when they break up. Unmarried parents have the same child custody rights as married couples, but parents who never married may face unique situations that divorcing couples dont.

Its important to understand the issues that are involved and work with a child custody lawyer who can help you reach a child custody and support agreement that is right for you, your kids, and your ex. This is true if you and your ex never married, if you are a same-sex couple who couldnt legally get married, or if another family member is fighting for custody of your kids.

Child Custody for Unmarried Parents

Regardless of a couples marital situation, courts make custody arrangements based on the best interests of the child.

If you and your ex can agree on a custody arrangement, you can present that agreement to the judge, who will either approve it or ask for modifications. But if you can't reach an agreement, the judge will decide for you.

When Unmarried Fathers Seek Custody

Unmarried mothers are presumed to have natural custody of their children from birth, so fathers who never married their kids' mothers need to know their legal rights when seeking child custody. For most fathers seeking child custody rights, its a battle worth fighting. According to some reports, a fathers absence is the single strongest predictor that a child will either grow up to be violent or fall victim to violence.

When seeking child custody, unmarried fathers must establish paternity and prove they are committed to having a relationship with their children and are interested in raising their children. Even if the fathers name appears on the birth certificate, courts will consider the fathers level of involvement when making custody decisions.

When Same-Sex Partners Seek Custody

Some states recognize marriages between same-sex couples, but most do not. When only one person in a relationship is the biological parent, custody issues can become very complicated. When same-sex couples have children and split up, they should consult a lawyer who focuses on child custody and support issues since the laws vary by state, and courts in different jurisdictions have decided the issue of custody for same-sex partners in different ways.

When a Non-Parent Seeks Custody

Some never-married parents often rely heavily on extended families and caregivers to help raise their children. In certain cases, these third parties or non-parents may seek custody. Third parties who are likely to seek custody include grandparents, aunts, uncles, and step-parents. Courts generally prefer to give custody to a parent, so a third party must prove that a parent is unfit or harmful to the child.

Factors Affecting Child Custody

Courts recognize that children usually do best when they have active and healthy relationships with both their parents, whether or not their parents ever married. When considering custody, courts will take into account a childs best interests. Almost all courts will consider several factors, including:

  • Which parent is the most likely to allow the child to continue his or her relationship with the other parent and extended family?
  • Which parent has the child been living with?
  • Does the child have a preference?
  • What type of arrangements do the parents want?
  • What emotional bonds does the child have with parents and other family members?
  • Does the child or either parent have mental and physical health issues that could impact custody arrangements?

Even if you never married, you and your ex will always have a relationship through your children. Just like divorcing couples, unmarried couples need to try to behave at least cordially to each other after they break up for the sake of their children.