When two people are not married at the time of a child's birth, only the mother is legally recognized. A father must sign a birth certificate and acknowledge being the parent of the child before he obtains rights.
Once a father establishes his legal right to have responsibility for a child, he may seek custody. Until a court states otherwise, a mother of a child obtains and retains sole physical custody of her child until the father takes action to obtain custody. It is nearly impossible for an unwed father to obtain custody of his child if the child's mother is a fit parent, but he can still seek fair custody rights.
How can you determine a visitation or custody schedule?
If you are unmarried and separated, you have a right to determine a schedule that works for both of you. For example, you may wish to have your child on the weekends while your ex-partner has your child through the week. If you and your child's mother can come to an agreeable arrangement, the court can make it legally binding.
If you can't come up with a way to share visitation and custody, you can take the case to court. There, a family judge will listen to both sides' arguments and determine who has custody or visitation rights to the child or children in the case.
What can you do if you don't know if you're the father of the child?
If you want to obtain custody and believe you're the father of the child, you'll need to first have a DNA test to prove paternity. The DNA test is normally performed with a swab. These tests are extremely accurate, identifying if you're biologically related to the child. Once established, you may petition the court for visitation and custody rights.
Keep in mind that establishing parenthood of a child will also mean you're responsible for the child support to which your child is entitled. Even if you have some visitation or custody time, it's normal to pay child custody to the primary parent for the care of the child. This money supplements the primary parent's income, helping better support your child while he or she grows in a single-income household.
Child custody is a complicated process for some, but with the right attitude and good communication, it's possible to develop a parenting plan that gives you time with your child and works for your situation.