If you have become a parent and are unmarried, you may feel as if asserting your parental rights is difficult. In North Carolina, unmarried parents have important rights to custody and visitation. It is vital to understand your rights, because valuable time with your child is at stake.
What Are Your Rights as an Unmarried Parent?
In North Carolina, both unmarried parents have the same parental rights as married parents once paternity is established. In the time after the child’s birth but before the parent(s) establish paternity, the mother has custodial rights. The parent(s) must establish paternity before the father gains the right to custody or visitation. In the meantime, the mother has custody unless removed by the court.
Either the mother or the father can attempt to establish paternity. A judge can order the father to take a DNA test at the request of the mother. Alternatively, a judge can require a mother to bring her child in for a DNA test at the father’s request. Genetic testing can be used to establish parentage in court. Your specific situation may have unique requirements, so be sure to consult a lawyer about paternity issues if you want to seek custody.
Can Unmarried Parents Request Child Custody or Visitation?
As an unmarried parent, you have the right to request custody or visitation with your child. A parent’s right to the custody, care and control of their child is an important, fundamental, and constitutionally-protected right. Having custody or visitation also can help ensure that both parents get the opportunity to build a strong relationship with their children and take responsibility for them.
If the other parent of your child has primary custody of your child, you may be urged to settle for occasional visits. Keep in mind that mothers have no priority over fathers in custody decisions, as long as paternity is established. Indeed, North Carolina law allows for several custody options, including secondary or joint custody. Spending time with your child could involve regular overnight visits, evenly split time with the child, or some other arrangement. It all depends on what a judge decides or what you agree upon with the other parent.
North Carolina custody decisions in court are made based on the best interests of the child. There are many factors that a judge will consider in making a custody determination, such as living situations, parents’ jobs, relative income, the child’s educational and social needs, and more. A child custody order is binding on both parents.
Some parents decide to make private custody arrangements without going to court. If you decide on a custody arrangement outside of court, you lose the broad perspective on your situation that a court could provide. You also lose the enforcement power – if the other parent violates a court order on custody, you can return to court to enforce it. A private custody agreement does not allow for this type of enforcement.
Can Unmarried Parents Have Input into Decisions for a Child?
Many people think about child custody as just physical custody, determining with whom the child lives. However, the other aspect of custody is legal custody, which allows parents to make decisions regarding their child. These decisions about the child’s upbringing and care could include where they go to school, which activities or religious services they participate in, and which medical care they receive. Legal custody arrangements do not have to be the same as physical custody arrangements. However, the parent with primary physical custody may have primary legal custody too. If you are interested in having legal custody of your child, speak to a lawyer about how to seek it.
What If You Are Unmarried and Live Together?
If you are unmarried and live with the other parent of your child, your child custody and other legal considerations may be different than if you lived apart. For example, you may want to establish paternity and get a court order regarding child custody to protect yourself should you ever break up. You also may want an agreement in place regarding legal custody and/or child support to ensure that your child receives the best care no matter what happens. There may even be tax or financial reasons to get a custody order. Couples who live together may not realize that child custody issues could affect them.
If you are unmarried and have a child, seeking child custody could be a key part of your role as a parent. Spending time with your child is very important. Fortunately, North Carolina custody laws permit unmarried parents to seek custody and visitation. Contact a local family law lawyer to learn more.
Let New Direction Family Law Assist You
If you want to seek child custody or visitation, the team at New Direction Family Law is available today to answer your questions. With decades of combined legal experience, our attorneys are knowledgeable, effective, and compassionate professionals. We will help you understand your legal rights and work hard toward your best outcome. We proudly serve clients in Wake, Johnston, Durham, and surrounding counties. Contact New Direction Family Law at (919) 646-6561 to schedule a consultation, or visit us at our website.