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Who Has Custody of a Child When the Parents Are Not Married?

Who Has Custody of a Child When the Parents Are Not Married? – Child custody is both a delicate topic and can also be quite a complex topic to discuss, as well. One of the most important questions to answer is who has custody of a particular child if the two parents of that child are not married. This is also a more common question since Americans are not getting married as often, they used to, but they are still having children. There are certain steps that must be taken to determine custody of a child if the parents are not married. Here is the answer to who has custody of a child when the parents are not married.

Paternity Acknowledgment Is the First Step

Paternity is typically the first challenge that must be overcome when you are dealing with matters of custody. If two people are married, there is an assumption that they are the biological parents of any child that is conceived during this marriage. There are a few more steps for unmarried parents. One easy way that unmarried parents can move forward is to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity Form and this form is filed with the Office of Vital Records. The birth certificate is created based on this form, so it is certainly quite important. 

However, in some cases, the mother might attempt to stop the father in the paternity acknowledgment process. If this happens, the father has several options, but the most common course of action is to file a lawsuit so that he is allowed to take a DNA test. Thankfully, DNA tests are usually quite conclusive aside from rare cases. Despite this, it is important to point out that providing paternity does not mean that someone gets custody. Providing paternity just proves that the two people making a case for custody do actually have a right to petition for it. Paternity acknowledgment affects child support, as well. 

Many Factors Go into Determining Custody

When you boil it down to the simplest interpretation, custody is really about deciding which of the two parents is best for the child’s sake. One factor that goes into deciding is the child’s own preference in the event that they are old enough to express this preference effectively and clearly. The kind of relationship that the child has with each parent is another vital factor in determining who gets custody of the child. A requirement to move and change schools is one more factor since it would require the child to start entirely new relationships in an area that may be unfamiliar to them. 

Each parent’s mental health is also important, as one might expect for a number of different reasons. A history of violence or lack thereof is something that can significantly impact who gets custody, as well. For obvious reasons, any parent that has a history of violence is much less likely to get custody of a child compared to a parent with no history of violence. In the view of most custody courts, it is ideal if the child maintains a relationship with both of their parents if possible, in the majority of custody cases. 

How Is Child Custody Determined?

As a San Antonio child custody lawyer would tell you, there are a number of ways that child custody can be determined. Not all of this involve the consultation of a child custody court, however. Unmarried parents may choose to determine who gets custody of a child through mediation outside of court if they wish. If the unmarried parents do give their case in court to a child custody judge, then the determination of custody is really in the judge’s hands. 

The judge will take a look at quite a few things before they render their decision about who gets custody of the child. As previously mentioned, each parents’ relationship with the child and the child’s own preferences are two factors that can play a large part in a judge’s decision. The judge will also consider how well each parent can actually care for the child and whether one parent was the child’s primary caregiver. The existence of any sort of criminal history, but especially domestic abuse, also influences how the judge rules which parent receives custody of the child, too. 

Custody Options

The judge will make a decision after examining all the relevant factors. The two options for custody are joint custody and sole custody. If the judge decides to grant joint custody, then the two parents can spend almost the same amount of time with the child. However, sole custody is different. With sole custody, only one parent has primary custody of the child and the other parent can only visit the child at certain, pre-determined times. If criminal history and past abuse are a factor in a custody case, the judge might not let one of the parents see the child at all. 

The Mother Typically Gets Primary Custody Rights

In most states, the mother receives primary custody rights automatically if the two parents are not married. This is a general rule that applies to the majority of states in the United States. This means that the mother has total authority over any decisions that impact the child’s welfare. Full legal and physical custody allows the mother to make decisions including choosing where the child lives, goes to school, what doctor the child visits, and much more. A San Antonio child custody lawyer will tell you this is the case, although this does not mean that the mother automatically receives primary custody rights in all situations, of course. 

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