Child Custody For An Unmarried Man?

Question:

I have been with my girlfriend for about 4 1/2 years now. We have never been married and just had a daughter 4 months ago.

I am wondering what are my chances of me getting custody or at least be able to see my daughter 3 – 4 days a week. I would love to have full custody but not too sure what my chances on that would be. She does not work and has not paid any of the bills or anything in over 5 months.

I am the sole provider in this house. What should I do?

Answer:

The issue of custody is divided into the decision making authority roles of the parents and the division of the time each parent is physically responsible for the child.   If you and the mother can effectively co-parent the child, you may wish to consider joint custody as to the decision making process.  Joint custody usually involves a formal joint parenting agreement which provides for discussion of the major child rearing issues, such as education, health care or religion, with a mediation clause if you can not agree.  The day to day parenting tasks are not usually covered by the joint parenting agreement.  Sole custody give ones parent all the decision making authority and, usually, the child then resides with the parent who has the authority.  The exact extent of the authorities of each parent under either custody arrangement varies by state.

If you believe you can not co-parent, then obtaining sole custody involves many factors which also vary by state.  However, unless the mother is not properly caring for the infant (unrelated to her financial responsibility and other personal habits), the mother-child bonding issues and the presumption from your question that she apparently is home all day while you are at work would be major obstacles to you obtaining sole legal and physical custody.

The physical custody schedule is affected by the schedules of the parties. Depending upon your work schedule and given her unemployment, a schedule where she cares for the child while you are at work and you care for the child other times may be an option.  The exact nature of your work schedules and of your respective residences will be considered in what schedule is best for your child.

The financial support of the child is driven by the financial abilities of the parents.  It is possible that she may be required to obtain employment if she has job skills that would produce income in excess of any child care costs.  Absent her having adequate financial resources, you may still be required to provide her support for the child regardless of the physical schedule.

As you and the mother were not married, you should consult a qualified attorney in your area as to what, if any, rights you have as the father of the child.  While most state laws impose financial obligations upon the father, it may be up to the father to petition a court to obtain any rights concerning the child.

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