Having children out of wedlock is no longer unusual, and many couples raise children together without ever marrying. When an unmarried couple splits up, they face the same issues regarding custody and visitation as divorcing couples.
Work with a local family attorney if you are dealing with issues concerning child custody for unmarried parents in Alpharetta. An experienced legal professional from our firm can explain the law and help you achieve your custody goals.
When an unmarried woman gives birth, she is considered the child’s only legal parent. An unmarried father can sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity that places his name on the birth certificate. However, even that act does not make the man the child’s legal father.
The Official Code of Georgia § 19-7-22 states that an unmarried man becomes a child’s legal father by filing a petition to legitimize the child with the court in the county where the mother lives. An Alpharetta attorney can help a man prepare and file the petition when a couple is unmarried and he wishes to have the right to custody of the child. The Georgia family courts will grant the legitimation if the mother does not object and doing so appears to be in the child’s best interests. If the father waits a considerable time before trying to legitimate a child, the court might deny the petition on the basis that the man has abandoned the child.
If a man has legitimized the child, he has the right to ask a court for custody and visitation. However, the court has no obligation to grant them.
In any decision regarding custody, the child’s best interest determines the court’s decisions. The parents’ desires are just one of numerous factors the family courts could consider when making a custody determination. The law favors custody arrangements where parents share time with the children as equally as possible, but courts must consider each case individually.
When an unmarried father has had little contact with a child, the family court is unlikely to grant custody unless it finds the mother unfit. However, visitation is often an option. If the father takes advantage of time with the child and a close relationship develops, the father could go back to court and request custody.
If an unmarried father has played a large role in the child’s life, he is likely to be granted custody rights unless the mother can show doing so is not in the child’s best interests. Reasons a mother might cite for denying custody to a father include active substance abuse, ongoing mental health concerns, a history of family violence, or similar issues. An Alpharetta attorney can help a parent pursue or defend against custody for an unmarried parent.
Ideally, unmarried parents support the relationship each has with their child or children and work together to establish a parenting plan. These plans must describe in detail where the children will sleep on which days, which parent is responsible for transportation, where exchanges will occur, and how the parents will handle disputes between themselves. The parents submit their plan to the court and if the judge finds it supports the children’s best interests, they will issue it as a formal, enforceable custody order.
In a custody dispute each parent would submit their preferred parenting plan to the family court and the judge will select the one that they believe best serves the children. In some cases, the judge might reject both plans and substitute another. Judge-created plans might not reflect the family’s specific dynamics and circumstances, and often do not work well in practice.
Parents maintain control over their lives and their relationships with their children by cooperating to develop a plan together. Mediation is helpful for many couples struggling to create a parenting plan. If the unmarried parents cannot communicate effectively, their Alpharetta attorneys can help negotiate an acceptable plan.
There is no longer any stigma attached to being an unmarried parent. Courts do not discriminate on the basis of marital status when making custody decisions. However, fathers must legitimate their children before the Georgia family courts consider granting them custody or visitation. If the father is a legal parent, the relationship they have had with the child and their ability to be a safe and responsible parent influences custody determinations.