Is Determining Child Custody More Difficult When the Parents are not Married?
While it is true that working through child custody issues when the parents are unmarried presents some unique issues, the process does not necessarily need to be more difficult. In this situation, the most common scenario is a father fighting for contact and visitation rights and a mother struggling to obtain child support from the father. An experienced family law attorney will have the skill and knowledge to assist either parent through this process.
Who gets custody of the child if the parents never married? In many states, the unmarried mother is usually awarded sole physical custody unless the unmarried father files a petition in court seeking to be awarded custody. Alabama prefers to award custody to both parents, encouraging them to share the responsibilities of raising their child. Either way, a court will ultimately make the decision.
Child custody concerns for the unmarried father
In some unfortunate cases, a mother will refuse to allow the father access to the child. In those cases, the father will need to go to court in order to be allowed visitation rights. This process includes first establishing paternity.
If a father seeks full custody, it is often an uphill battle. Rarely is a father awarded custody over the mother unless the mother is determined to be unfit, or if there are health and safety issues with the children. The most likely outcome is a form of joint custody, when feasible, or visitation. Like most other areas of family law, the parents can always come to an agreement outside of the court process. When that is not possible, only the court can resolve these issues. Although it takes time and money to go through the court process, fathers should not be discouraged. Many courts, like Alabama, are of the opinion that joint custody is in the best interest of the child. That is the applicable standard.
Child custody concerns for the unmarried mother
The mother’s biggest concern, unless there are issues regarding her fitness to have custody of the child, is fighting for financial support. A finding of paternity is always required before a father will be forced to pay child support. Without this finding, the court is unable to issue an order requiring a father to pay.
Of course, child support payments can be made voluntarily. But without a finding of paternity, the mother cannot force the father to continue payments if he decides at some point to stop making them. In other words, if a mother is relying on voluntary payments by the father without a finding of paternity, she will find herself in a difficult situation if the father decides to stop paying voluntarily.
If you or someone you know has questions or needs assistance with child custody and/or visitation, please contact our firm either online, or by calling (205) 533-7476.