Child Custody for Unmarried Parents in Suwanee

Couples often have children together without getting married. Some couples will be together for decades and raise families without ever marrying.

Although society in general is becoming more accepting of people choosing to have children but not marry, the law has not caught up. It does not bestow legal parental rights on unwed fathers, even when the father acknowledges the child is his.

This makes child custody for unmarried parents in Suwanee more complicated than it is for married parents. If you have children with someone you never married and now are living apart from your co-parent, contact a local family law attorney for help.

How to Ensure Both Parents Have Parental Rights

An unmarried couple who has a child can sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity when the baby is born, or sometime afterward. When both parents sign the acknowledgment, the father is listed on the child’s birth certificate, and he assumes an obligation to pay child support. However, he does not have full parental rights.

An unmarried father must legitimize his child to gain legal parental rights, including the right to seek custody. A father can legitimize the child at any time after its birth. However, waiting until there is a custody dispute could weaken a father’s case.

The father files a petition with the family court asking it to legitimize the child. If the mother agrees, a Suwanee family attorney can help the unmarried couple prepare a custody agreement to submit to the court. If the mother objects, the family court would consider the reasons for each parent’s request and decide based on what is best for the child.

Custody Laws Give Equal Rights to Parents

Once an unmarried father has legitimized his children, he has the right to seek custody and parenting time if the parents live apart. Custody and parenting time refer to where the children live and when they spend time with the other parent. Legal custody means decision-making responsibility regarding issues like education, healthcare, and religion.

The Official Code of Georgia §19-9-3 directs that courts should not favor one parent over another based on gender when making child custody determinations. Instead, judges must begin with the assumption that a close relationship with both parents is best for the children and that they benefit from both parents influencing their upbringing.

When an unmarried father has a relationship with his children and has been an involved parent, they have as much right to custody as the mother does. If the father was absent from the children’s lives or his role was more detached or distant, courts are less likely to grant the father custody. However, they might allow parenting time. When the relationships between the father and the children deepen, a Suwanee attorney can ask the court to modify the custody order to provide the unmarried father with increased time with and responsibility for the children.

The Children’s Best Interests Control Every Decision

Georgia law requires judges to make the children’s best interests their primary consideration when making any decision related to custody. The judge must evaluate the arrangement that provides the children with the most stability and support and the best chance to fulfill their potential.

The law lists multiple factors a judge could consider when deciding what solution is in the children’s best interests. The list includes the following:

  • Flexibility of each parent’s schedule;
  • Each parent’s ability to meet each child’s needs;
  • Relationship between each parent and each child;
  • Each parent’s home environment, focusing on the capacity for support and affection, not material items;
  • How well the parents communicate and whether they could co-parent successfully;
  • Each parent’s understanding of each child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs;
  • Either parent’s history of family violence, untreated mental health issues, or substance abuse.

Additionally, the judge could consider the wishes of a child between 11 and 14. The judge must allow a child 14 years or older to live with the parent of their choice unless there is evidence the arrangement would not be in the child’s best interests.

A Suwanee attorney can present evidence showing that an unmarried parent’s custody goals support the best interests of the children.

Unmarried Parents Seeking Custody Should Contact a Suwanee Attorney

Resolving custody issues is often challenging and it can be more so when parents are not married. You need dependable legal advice so you can adopt the best strategy to meet your custody goals.

Contact a local attorney with experience handling child custody for unmarried parents in Suwanee. Reach out today to get started.

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