Child custody issues equally affect divorcing couples and unmarried parents without discrimination as to marital status. Child custody can be a contentiously-fought and emotionally-charged part of divorce proceedings or even litigation between unmarried partners. Because of the high stakes of child custody disputes on parents and, more importantly, on the children at issue, it is prudent for parties to give serious consideration to consulting with legal counsel. Single mothers automatically are awarded child custody rights under state laws.
The legislative preference for granting custody to mothers stems from the historic and traditional child-rearing roles of women in society, as well as the predominant needs of infants and young children for their mothers for nourishment and comfort. Those custody rights are not absolute, however, and can be lost. Child Custody Rights of Single Fathers Single mothers’ counterparts, unmarried fathers, do not have child custody rights automatically assigned to them. This is the case even if any of the following is true:
- The child’s paternity has been determined;
- The father’s last name has been given to the child; or
- The father’s name is listed on the child’s birth certificate.
That said, if unmarried parents separate, the child’s father can petition for child custody. A single father petitioning for child custody must demonstrate to the family court several things if he wants to prevail:
- He has participated in an active and involved manner in the parenting or co-parenting of the child at issue; and
- He has assisted significantly in the child’s raising.
Child Custody Rights of Third Parties Grandparents, stepparents, other family members, foster parents and guardians, among others, can prevail in child custody suits over single birth mothers in certain instances. If any of these parties thinks they can do a better job at raising a child than the child’s birth mother, they can petition the court for an award of child custody. Any of these types of third parties who petition the family court for child custody has an uphill battle ahead of them, however.
These parties have to assert a great deal to prove to the family court that they deserve to be awarded custody rights. Third parties competing against birth mothers for child custody must prevail in proving the following:
- That the third party has the right to seek child custody; and
- That the natural parent (or parents) is unfit to bring up the child.