When a married couple divorces, they have to work out a parenting plan or prepare to litigate their custody arrangements. There is usually a presumption that both parents will remain actively involved with the children by assuming shared custody and possibly also paying child support.
Things are different for unmarried couples that have children together. Although the parents still have largely the same rights, the steps to exercise them are different. Understanding how custody differs when an unmarried couple ends their relationship as opposed to when a married couple divorces can help you better prepare for the consequences of your impending relationship change.
The father must take steps if he wants to share custody
There is a presumption of paternity that applies to married couples. Unless some kind of evidence proves otherwise, the state presumes that the man married to a woman who gives birth is the father of the child. He will automatically have his name on the birth certificate and will have the right to seek custody if he and the mother divorce.
An unmarried father will not automatically have his name on the birth certificate. The mother will have to acknowledge him for him to have his name added. If he has not formally established paternity, he will have to do so during or after the breakup if he wants to ask for parental rights.
How did the courts divide custody between parents?
As with any other matter involving children, every decision should reflect what is best for the children involved. Typically, New Jersey family law judges like to keep both parents actively involved with the children by splitting custody fairly between the parents.
The exact terms that the courts set will depend on many factors, like the involvement of each parent in the child’s life prior to the custody issue and the age of the kids. Only in scenarios where there is evidence showing that one parent might pose a danger to the children will the courts typically not grant at least visitation to an unmarried father who wants to be involved in the lives of his children after he established paternity.
Understanding the rights you have as an unmarried parent can help you navigate a custody dispute with the other parent of your child.