What Unwed Fathers Should Know About Gaining Custody
Many fathers who are not or were never married to their child’s mother may think the likelihood of them obtaining custody is slim to none. The truth is unwed fathers can gain custody of their children through a suit affecting parent-child relationship, also known as SAPCR. SAPCR is also commonly referred to as a paternity suit. Petitioning the court for a paternity suit is the first step unwed fathers need to take to obtain custody or visitation with their children.
The outcome of the paternity suit, however, is not based on a procedure but more on many factors that a judge considers throughout the case. Judges look at a wide array of factors, most notably the relationship the father has with the child and any parenting concerns the father has regarding how the child’s mother is caring for or raising him or her. These factors play a major role in how the judge decides the case and whether the father gets the outcome he hopes for.
Filing a Paternity Suit
When an unwed father files a paternity suit, he is petitioning the court to provide him with access to his child, which is based on the idea that contact with both parents is within the child’s best interests. In this petition, the father can request custody, visitation, or both, but it is important to note that custody and visitation are not the same thing. Once the petition has been filed with the court, the father needs to ensure that the child’s mother is served with a notice that a petition has been filed.
Making a Custody Case
Fathers will want to hire an attorney to help build their custody case. If fathers have any concerns or evidence that the mother is improperly parenting the child, it is important they inform their attorney of these facts, including reports of neglect, any cases with child protective service agencies, or evidence of unfit behavior. If the mother does not have any negative parenting attributes, the father may want to consider petitioning the court for visitation as a backup plan.
The Custody Decision
Depending on the circumstances of the case and the evidence presented, the judge decides on the father’s petition. The father’s request for custody or visitation will either be granted, denied, or some compromise will be made between both parties. It is important to know there is no such thing as a “final decree” when it comes to child custody issues – there is always an opportunity to have child custody agreements modified or changed depending on the circumstances of the case.