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Father's rights to visitation: Custody can be legally won

Not all relationships that produce children begin or end at the altar. Here in New York City, as elsewhere, many children are born to unmarried parents. Sometimes, the biological fathers feel that they have to take a backseat to the mother when it comes to rearing their children and being part of their lives.

It doesn't necessarily have to be that way, however. A father's custody rights are as important as the mother's, although due to basic biology, a father has to exert his rights by first establishing paternity.

Unmarried fathers can establish paternity in a couple of ways in New York. The easiest and least expensive option is to sign an acknowledgement of paternity after the birth of the child. This acknowledgement is then filed in the courts. Alternatively, in cases where paternity is disputed or unknown, a biological link can be established via DNA testing.

Once the matter of paternity settled, fathers may pursue visitation and custody of their child(ren). While all parents have the right to seek access to their offspring, the courts consider the best interests of the child when deciding custody and visitation matters.

The parents may reach an accord between them on pertinent matters such as which parent shall have primary custody, who will participate in major decisions such as what religion, if any, the child is raised, where he or she attends school and matters related to the healthcare the child receives. These negotiations between the parents are included in a parenting plan or agreement and filed with the clerk of court with jurisdiction over their case.

Not all cases go this smoothly, and this is when it is a good idea to get some professional legal advice on how next to proceed. Most courts won't remove a child from his or her mother's custody and grant sole custody to the dad unless he is able to prove that he has already been the primary caregiver and/or the mother is unfit. However, unmarried dads can petition the court to establish visitation and custody. Unless evidence shows that allowing visitation would harm the child, it is a presumption of the court that the child benefits from both parents being involved in his or her life. Some examples that would preclude visitation and custody include a past history of domestic violence or substance abuse.

Source: Findlaw, "Child Visitation, Child Custody and Unmarried Fathers" Sep. 23, 2014

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