Unmarried Parents: What Are Their Custody Rights?

Unmarried parents discussing custody rights
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Divorce and separation are never easy, but when the matter of child custody is involved, it becomes even more complicated. Custody disputes between spouses are usually lengthy and stressful, but what happens when the parents are unmarried? Determining custody, visitation, and child support are all crucial to the separation process. For unmarried parents, what needs to be done in order to determine these necessary terms?

If both parents are established legally as the child’s biological parents, the custody case will proceed as is standard. In a case where the parents are not married and the father has not signed the birth certificate, undergone genetic testing ordered by a court, and the parents have not executed a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, legally, the father has no right to see his child unless there is a court order, as paternity is not presumed. Fathers in this situation can run into problems when it comes to being awarded visitation rights and custody.

Although it seems harsh for unwed fathers, this also prevents mothers from pursuing and collecting child support. A father who wants visitation rights or child custody must first establish paternity. There are a few ways to do this. The first, and simplest, is to be present when the child is born and help the mother fill out the birth certificate.  The second way is to fill out a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity Form. This form is filled out by the mother and purported father together to get the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate. Once paternity is established, the unmarried father has the same rights as a married father.

In the case of a custody battle, protocol usually varies by state. Many will order that both parents retain shared legal and shared physical custody. Others award joint custody, giving one parent primary custody. There are other situations where one parent is awarded primary physical custody, while the other is given reasonable rights for visitation. In some cases, one parent is not given visitation at all. This happens when the court believes one parent would be detrimental to the child. Determining visitation rights comes down to the parent’s involvement in the child’s care, residence, lifestyle, and moral character. Pennsylvania law outlines the factors that the court must consider when making a custody determination. An experienced attorney can explain to you which of those factors are most important in your particular situation.

There are several additional issues unmarried parents can run into other than child custody. Schooling and medical facilities must be agreed upon between parents. The child’s last name also has to be determined. Another common issue is determining who will claim the child as a dependent on their taxes. Legally, only one parent is allowed to claim the child on their taxes. If child support is granted, the parent receiving support cannot claim that as extra income and the parent paying support cannot deduct that from their taxes.

With any legal case, it is always important to seek out the proper legal help. A knowledgeable attorney who is well versed in custody and child support can help make sense of this complicated process. If court is necessary, they will help represent you and provide you with all of the necessary information.

The attorneys at Sadek and Cooper Law Offices have handled hundreds of divorces in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties of Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, and Chester. We are also licensed in the State of New Jersey. Contact us today to schedule your consultation.

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