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Deciding Child Custody When A Couple Isn't Married

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With social norms changing, it is more common for a couple to have a child outside of wedlock. The problem with this is that questions about child custody can come up if the couple decides to split up before they get married. If you are in this type of situation, be aware of what kind of custody options are available to you, as well as what the courts can decide if there is not an agreement.

Child Custody Types

There are several different child custody types that can happen when the parents have never been married.

Full Custody

One parent will be given full custody of the child, and they are the only one that has any legal rights concerning them.

Primary Custody

One parent will have physical custody, but will be required to discuss with the other parent when making decisions concerning their child.

Joint Custody

Each parent will have equal rights as a custodial parent, and the child spends time living with both parents that that is potentially split evenly. Each parent has equal parenting rights even if the living arrangement has not been split 50/50 due to practical circumstances.


The parent without custody is awarded visitation rights, which can be specific days and times to spend with the child. Visitation can also be informal with no timeframe specified.

Deciding Child Custody

When two parents aren't married, it's common for the primary custody of the child to be given to their biological mother, although joint custody is possible. The dad may receive custody if they are able to prove the mother isn't fit to have custody, or if the mother cannot properly care for their child. Unmarried fathers may be required to prove paternity to be awarded custody, even if they are listed as the father on the child's birth certificate. If they cannot prove paternity, they would not be able to receive parental rights.

Keep in mind that if the mother were incapacitated or killed, the birth father could receive custody over any of the mother's relatives. This may only be possible if the father has been a part of the child's life, though. If the father has not been around, preference could be given to relatives of the mother by a family court judge.

If you feel like there is going to be a battle for custody, you need all the help that you can get. Work with a family lawyer in your area that can fight on your behalf to make sure that you get the custody type that you deserve. An attorney like those at Martin Lawyers may be able to help.