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How does an unmarried father pursue parental rights?

Parenting agreements are a standard part of divorce when parents choose to end a marriage, but for unmarried fathers, fighting for fair child custody can present some additional challenges. If you and your child's biological mother were never married, you still have parental rights, but may have to overcome some additional obstacles to claim these rights in a fair way.

The first issue at hand is establishing legal paternity of the child. Until you establish paternity, you will have great difficulty securing your rights to remain involved in the child's life. If the mother does not object, you can file a mutual acknowledgement of paternity at the time of birth or some time after. If the mother claims that you are not the father of the child, you can request DNA paternity testing of the child through the court.

Once you establish paternity, you can move on to creating a fair custody or visitation agreement. Many factors play into this, and it is important to note that many courts still heavily favor mothers in custody disputes, but you should not let this discourage you from pursuing your rightful role in the child's life. Depending on the factors in your particular case, you may be able to pursue a visitation schedule or a form of joint custody with the mother.

In some cases, if the mother presents a threat to the safety of the child, you may be able to convince the court that awarding you primary custody is truly best for the child. Courts that oversee custody matters usually wish to create custody arrangements that place the child's best interests above the interests of parents, but your rights are still important.

If you find yourself in just such a dispute, you should consult with an attorney. Professional legal counsel ensures that you understand all of the issues at play in your dispute as you build a strategy to grant you the role you deserve in your child's life, while keeping your rights protected in the process.

Source: Findlaw, "Child Visitation, Child Custody and Unmarried Fathers," accessed Sep. 22, 2017

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