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What are steps unmarried fathers can take to gain custody?

Every father should have parental rights regardless of relationship status. Although many unmarried fathers may feel that seeking visitation or custody is impossible, the family court still believes that involvement of both parents is usually in a child's best interests.

When a child is born to a married couple, paternity is assumed by the family court to belong to the husband. In the case of unmarried fathers, paternity must be established before visitation and custody can be awarded. By establishing paternity, a father may begin to exercise his parental rights. In uncontested paternity cases, establishing these rights is a relatively simple process. Both biological parents may choose to sign an acknowledgment of paternity. This will allow the unmarried father access to their child for visitation or custody.

In the event paternity is contested, unmarried fathers may wish to receive the help of an attorney. In these cases, the legal process of establishing paternity and gaining parental rights often includes DNA testing and a family court hearing. If paternity is jointly established, biological parents may wish to draft a parenting agreement to outline issues like visitation, legal custody, health care and education. If paternity is contested, these issues may be addressed and decided by the family court.

The family court presumes that it is in the child's best interests to have a schedule that maximizes time spent with both parents. After paternity is established, it is likely that the family court will award visitation or joint custody based on this model. Establishing paternity not only helps unmarried fathers gain parental rights to their child, but it also offers the child financial protection by way of child support.

Although it is the family courts hope that every biological parent wishes to remain involved in their child's life, establishing paternity and exercising parental rights may still be difficult for unmarried fathers. In contested paternity cases, it may be in the best interests of the biological father to seek the advice of a legal professional.

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