When married parents in New York get divorced, they expect to come to a child custody arrangement with one another that firs their situation. While some parents might find that joint physical and legal custody works best for them, others might use another strategy. At the end of the day, courts base their decisions on the best interests of the children involved. However, when parents are not married to one another and have broken up, then child custody and visitation is not an automatic right. Steps must be taken to establish and exercise an unmarried father’s rights.
An unmarried father must first establish paternity. In some cases, this can be as simple as filling out an acknowledgement of paternity form with the relevant agency. In others, it may involve a DNA test and a court order stating who the father is. Without establishing paternity, it is not possible to pursue custody.
Parents generally try and negotiate a parenting plan amicably. This means deciding on who will have primary custody, how important decisions will be made and by whom, and how changes to the agreement will be made. For unmarried parents, these decisions will include factors such as the father’s relationship with the child and any history of drug and alcohol abuse.
If parents are unable to decide on their own, then the court will make the decision for them. Courts assume that children will benefit from having both parents in their life, and make child custody decisions accordingly. This presumption is rebuttal, if one parent can demonstrate that the other is unfit for parenting. However, it is rare for an unmarried father to win sole custody of a child already being raised by the child’s mother. To understand how to enforce one’s rights or contest custody, it is beneficial to consult an experienced attorney for guidance.