Parents have the right to seek child custody and child visitation. Seeking custody or visitation rights holds true for parents irrespective of the situation of things between the partners, that is, whether they were married or not as of when the child was born.

Similar to all other child custody cases, child custody in an unmarried relationship involves a court taking a stand based on the best interest of the child with the help of a family lawyer. In the case of disputed custody or visitation challenge by the unmarried father, courts will consider the facts of the case and determine a resolution that is regarded to be in the best interest of the child.

Unless there’s a body of evidence to support that the influence of one of the parents is damaging to the child, the court will mostly presume that both parents are required for the healthy development of the child.

As an unmarried father seeking a better relationship with your child, whether in the form of child custody or child visitation agreement, there are some things that are essential and peculiar to your case, all of which you should be aware of. Below are some of the information necessary for establishing paternity and preparing parenting agreements.

Step One: Establish Paternity 

Fathers who at the time of the birth of their child were unmarried are required to establish the paternity of the child legally. Establishing paternity of the child is one of the very important steps to getting access to the father’s rights which opens you up to custody and visitation rights.

To establish paternity rights, you may simply need to sign and file a paternity form that acknowledges you as the father of the child. The form will be filed with an appropriate court or state agency. This paternity form may be signed at the time of the birth of the child or later on in the future.

In the case of disputes, a more complex process of DNA testing may be required to ascertain whether or not the unmarried father is truly the father of the child in question.

Once an unmarried father has been able to establish paternity, the father may then begin to pursue child visitation or child custody rights. In several states across the US, a father may simultaneously file for the establishment of their paternity while also demanding custody or visitation rights determined by the family lawyer.

Step Two: Child Custody and Child Visitation Rights

In the case of a divorce, many parents begin to negotiate the terms of custody and visitation which will allow them access to the child of the marriage. However, in such cases as this, when both parties are unmarried, a parenting plan may also be reached during the legal process.

A parenting plan or parenting agreement is one that is reached between both unmarried partners stating to the details the extent of the child custody or visitation agreement. As part of the parenting plan, both parties may agree to specifics such as visitation times, visitation durations, whether one or both parties have the authority to make certain decisions especially regarding healthcare, religion, and education of the child, and also specific on how challenges will be handled.

In most cases, child visitation rights for an unmarried father hinges on the type of relationship that exists between such a father and the child. If the father has a history of domestic violence, child abuse, alcohol abuse, long term history of drug abuse, mental illness and other negatively impacting behavior, such a father’s demands may be significantly harmed or stringent rules set.

Step Three: Seeking Court Orders For the Establishment of Visitation and Child Custody Rights For Unmarried Fathers

Reaching an agreement on child custody and visitation between the parties smoothes out the process as the court is bound to honor and incorporate the decision made by the parties. Having this agreement as part of the court order allows either of the parties to drag the other to court for flouting the court agreement regarding child custody and visitation.

If unmarried partners are unable to reach an agreement regarding a parenting plan, either of the parents may choose to file a petition demanding legal help on the issue. In such cases as this, there is a contested hearing where the parties involved, through their legal counsel, will present their case before the court that will decide on the matter. The decision of the court is regarded as final, although aggrieved parties may seek modifications or appeals.

With the court making a decision based on what is presumed as the best interest of the child, both parents are allowed a form or access and participation in the upbringing of the child. However, this general statement of belief that the child can benefit from both parents may be overturned when one of the parents has evidence to prove that granting child custody or visitation to the other party may put the child in harm’s way. For instance, if one of the parties has a history of domestic abuse, child violence, history of mental illness, alcohol or drug abuse or other related issues, these acts may be regarded as detrimental to the health and safety of the child. Such arguments may cause the court to review the stance on the contribution of such a party to the development of the child.

While courts recognize the rights of unmarried fathers, it is most often time difficult for fathers to secure custody of the child, especially if the child is already being raised by the mother. However, to upturn the status quo, such an unmarried father will need to provide evidence to prove that the mother is indeed unfit to raise the child or that the mother is a negative influence on the child.

Although most unmarried fathers may not get full custody of the child, they are most often times rewarded with shared custody or child visitation agreements which ensures that they can continue to play an active role in the life of the child.

It is also possible for either of the parents to seek modifications of the earlier agreements to reflect the current situation of things. Modification of these agreements may also be uncontested –when both parties agree to the modifications or contested.