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Issues of child custody can be emotionally and legally complex. Unfortunately, not being married doesn't make matters any easier.
The best way to ensure custody and visitation of your children is to have a signed custody agreement, preferably an order from a court. Here are a few legal considerations when trying to obtain custody of your child:
Your first concern in a custody battle is establishing paternity. In most states, the male spouse is presumed to be the father, but unmarried fathers may have a harder time establishing paternity. Generally, paternity can be established via:
Without paternity, securing visitation and custody rights as an unmarried father may be impossible.
Any custody or visitation order will involve a parenting agreement. This is something you can negotiate and arrange with the child's mother and have your agreement certified by the court, or you can battle it out in court. Even if there is a custody dispute, trying to come to an agreement out of court is normally the better option.
Once custody and visitation has been agreed upon, both parties must abide by the custody arrangement. Neither you nor your girlfriend may interfere with parenting time, and children must also obey custody orders. And while it's possible to modify a custody order, they are enforceable nationwide, so one party can't escape a custody order by moving away.
Child custody laws and forms can vary by state, so if you're worried that a girlfriend may try to take your child, you should contact an experienced fathers' rights attorney near you.