How Is Child Custody Decided If You Are Not Married?

Unfortunately, child custody cases between non-married parents is on the rise. When the parents have not been married, certain special factors are considered, but the process of determining custody is quite similar to cases of divorce.

If you are an unmarried parent, the best case scenario is to work out the situation with the other parent without the involvement of an attorney or the court. If it can’t be resolved, then you should seek legal advise and the matter will need to be taken to the court for decisions about custody and visitation.

In this Divorced Fathers Rights Guide we will discuss what you should know about child custody if you have not been married to the other parent.

The Mother Gets Sole Custody By Default

When parents are married and divorced, it is not automatically assumed as it once was that the mother should have primary custody. But this is still the assumption when parents have not been married. In most states, the mother will be awarded sole physical custody of the child, at least initially.

However, if the case never enters the courts and the mother chooses to give the father primary custody, such arrangements are rarely disputed.

Good Mothers Keep Sole Custody

If the mother is stable and demonstrates parenting skills that are at least adequate, she is likely to retain sole custody in cases before a family judge because it may lesson the effect on children of a separation of their parents. If she is unstable or otherwise not a good parent, the father can apply to the court to have an evaluation done. This evaluation can also be requested by a social worker if there are significant questions about the mother’s abilities to properly care for the child.

If it is determined that the mother is not a suitable parent for the child, custody will not automatically be granted to the father. He will have to demonstrate that his home is the best environment for the child. Other options considered might be a near relative, usually of the mother, who would provide a better home. The foster care system is also an option when neither parent nor their relatives can provide a suitable environment for the child.

Non-Married Father’s Rights

Fathers who were never married to the mother still have rights, and state laws vary in regards to this situation. They can seek some form of custody or have their child visitation rights secured. Again, sole custody is granted to the father only when the mother is shown not to be a good parent and the father has a very stable home situation. Joint custody is also an option in these cases, often shared with the maternal grandmother or a maternal aunt.