Child Custody Between Unmarried Parents

April 7, 2020

Child custody is a stressful situation for everyone involved. Often, it can be difficult to determine a child custody agreement due to emotionally charged ex-spouses. For this reason, laws in each state mandate child custody agreements based on the circumstances of each case. However, what happens if the separating parents are not married?

Rights of Legal Parents

A child custody agreement for unmarried parents would be determined in the same way as if the couple was legally married. Legal parents include biological parents, parents who jointly adopted a child, and if a non-biological parent legally adopted the child. In New Jersey, if there is a question about who the father is, a paternity test will be required. A paternity test is essential in these cases because it will govern who has legal rights. The test can be administered voluntarily or through a court order.

If the father is present at the birth, he can voluntarily sign a Certificate of Parentage, verifying that he recognizes himself as the parent. Although it is voluntary, New Jersey hospitals must give the father an option to sign the certificate. If paternity is questioned, a genetic test will be done. As previously mentioned, this test can be voluntarily completed or ordered through the court. The test results must be 95 percent or higher to conclude that the parent is biological.

If both parties are established as legal parents, the laws are relatively clear-cut. Meaning, unmarried parents have the same rights as parents that are legally married. In some cases, mediation will be required or an investigation through the county, which may include home visits.

Evidence from mediation sessions and investigations will be presented in family court. These investigations will determine which parent is best suited to care for the child. The court bases their decision on the best interests of the child. Though it varies by state, a parent may request a child custody arrangement and wait for the judge’s approval. In most cases, joint custody will be awarded.

Rights of Non-Legal Parents

Child custody agreements with non-legal parents are more challenging. Often, the non-legal parent has little to no rights at all, even if they raised the child. Fortunately, there are a few options available for non-legal parents to ensure that they have visitation rights. In some states, a non-legal parent can adopt the child. However, this depends on how the court views the situation, if the judge determines the person as fit, and if the legal parent agrees. It is always advisable, and sometimes necessary, to consult with a family law lawyer to determine the best course of action.

If the court repeatedly denies your request to obtain rights, another option would be to come to an agreement with the legal parent. Depending on the state, this agreement may not be established in court. However, both parents can sign, date, and have an agreement notarized. This document will be presented by a judge who will determine if it has merit. Another option is to initiate visitation with the child if the legal parent agrees. Sometimes, this can be difficult, especially if the couple is going through a troubling separation. Either way, parents must view the situation objectively, and make a conclusion on what is best for the child.

Moorestown Child Custody Lawyers at Stockton Family Law Help Clients with Child Custody Agreements

Determining a child custody agreement can be stressful, emotional, and grueling. Contact one of our Moorestown child custody lawyers at Stockton Family Law today, we can help. To schedule a confidential consultation, call us at 856-412-5052 or complete our online form. Located in Moorestown, New Jersey, we represent individuals throughout South Jersey, including Mount Laurel, Burlington County, and Camden County.