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Child Custody For Unmarried Parents-The Essentials

Gorry Terry

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Child custody problems for unmarried couples are every bit as complicated for unmarried couples as it is for married couples who decide to divorce. There are entirely new and different issues in unmarried child custody cases.

The primary question is who gets custody of the child if the couple is never married?

Ordinarily, unmarried fathers will fight for contact and child custody visitation rights to their children. Unmarried mothers problems most often focus around obtaining child support from the father.

Unmarried mothers and child custody

In the case of unmarried mothers, most of their battles are often centered on the child’s financial support from the father.

Usually, a paternity finding by a court is required before a father is forced to pay child support. Without it, it is impossible to enforce.

On the other hand, a voluntary child support payment from the unmarried father without the paternity finding is on shaky and uneforceable ground; if the father decides later to stop paying voluntarily, the unmarried mother really cannot do anything to enforce payment in the absence of any agreement between them.

Unmarried fathers and child custody

Different states in the U. S. have different perspectives on child custody cases, especially between couples who are not married. In most states, however, the unmarried mother is awarded sole physical custody, unless the unmarried father fights against such a decision.

Often, the father is left with very few options at the start of the split to have access to his child. This is assuming that the mother denies him access.

If the mother denies the father access to his child, the father will need to fight for such rights through the family court. This would involve the establishing of his paternity of the child and subsequently, petitioning the court for his share of parental rights.

At best, the unmarried father can only gain some form of child custody and visitation rights. This is dependent, too, on the mother’s cooperative attitude on agreeing out of court settlements.

Rights of unmarried fathers

Legally, the unmarried father faces an uphill battle in trying to gain access to his child. This is because he does not have the automatic right to spend time with his child as opposed to a married father.

When parents divorce or separate (whether married or unmarried), it is a common occurrence that the father is denied access to the children by the mother. When the issue is resolved in the courts, the issue of child support trumps the right of the father to gain access to their children.

Nowadays, some lawyers argue that a mother denying the unmarried father access to the child may not be in the best interests of the child. This position would require explanation, and could be used against the mother if the custody is disputed.

An unmarried father would need to first establish his paternity (either by a signed voluntary declaration, or by filing a paternity action) before he can gain rights of access and responsibilities to his child or children.

All in all, child custody is a messy (and expensive) issue if the parties involved are not married. Of course, things are way different if they are settled by the parents in the name of the children, and preferably outside of the court.
Learn more about all of the issues surrounding child custody and Wisconsin child support and child custody rights at


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