Below are tips an unmarried father can use to get child custody. 

Establish Legal Paternity

Seeking custody without establishing yourself as the child's legal father is challenging. Therefore, you should first establish the legal paternity of the child. You can do this in three main ways:

  • Voluntary acknowledgment of paternity – You and the child's mother agree to sign a document acknowledging you as the child's father if you agree.
  • Genetic testing – You and the child's mother agree to laboratory test samples from you and the baby to confirm your genetic match.
  • Court-ordered paternity determination – If the mother is uncooperative, you petition the court to force paternity testing.

Whichever method you use largely depends on the mother's willingness to cooperate with you.

Get Involved in the Child's Life

Get involved in the child's life as much as possible once you establish paternity. First, everyone should take good care of their child for their well-being. Secondly, the involvement will help you prove you deserve to be in the child's life if the issue goes to court. Remember to document your involvement, for example, by documenting visits with the child.

Know the Type of Custody You Want

The law recognizes different forms of child custody. Here is their brief overview:

  • Legal custody allows you to make long-term decisions on the child's upbringing
  • Physical custody determines who lives with the child at any time
  • Joint custody grants custody rights to both parents
  • Sole custody grants custody rights to one parent

Understand the differences between these custody forms to target the one you want. For example, you can target legal custody if your work or living arrangements would not benefit the child if you lived together, but you still want a say in major decisions, such as education or healthcare.

Negotiate With the Mother

Talk with the child's mother to determine whether you can get an out-of-court child custody and visitation arrangement. If possible, create a co-parenting plan as part of your child custody agreement. Below are some issues the plan should cover:

  • The child's living arrangements during school and holidays
  • Parental responsibilities
  • The child's educational choices
  • Visitation schedules

Take your agreement to the court for approval.

File a Custody Petition

File a child custody petition with the court if you cannot agree with the other parent. The court will consider your respective circumstances and wants while making the decision. Ultimately, however, the court will determine the custody arrangement largely based on the child's well-being.  

Contact a local custody lawyer for more information.