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Unwed fathers can protect their right to visitation and custody

You and your girlfriend never got married, but you decided to start a family together. You lived together for several years, but you both soon realized that your relationship wasn't working out.

Now, you share a child, a home and many of your assets, but since you're not married, you're in a tough position. You know that there is a risk that you'll have to fight for custody of your child.

What should you do to protect your rights as a father?

Assuming that you are also on your child's birth certificate, you may not need to obtain a paternity test. However, it's a good idea to have one done anyway, so there is no risk of the child belonging to someone else. As long as your child is biologically yours and you are on the birth certificate, you can seek fair custody rights.

When you are designated as the child's father, you gain the full rights of anyone who is a father and also married. This is good for you, especially considering that you also showed, in good faith, that you could care for your child in your home.

When you go to court over custody, you'll want to present evidence to support the custody arrangements you want to have. Usually, unwed fathers are not given precedence over the child's mother, but given your relationship and the fact that you are the biological parent, you'll have the same opportunities as fathers who are going through a divorce.

Next, remember to produce documentation for the court that shows your active role in your child's life. If you are trying to seek sole or primary custody, you need to have a strong case including information on why you think it's in your child's best interests to remain with you the majority of the time. That could include factors such as your financial position, the ability to provide more for your child, the mother's interaction with drugs or alcohol, or other situations that affect your child's upbringing.

Although unwed fathers sometimes have a more difficult time in custody cases, having information that backs up requests and good witness statements about their character can help. Your attorney can help you build a strong custody case. You deserve to remain in your child's life and to be able to support them as they grow, regardless of who you chose or did not choose to marry.

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