Contested child custody cases are difficult no matter the marital status of the parents.  For unwed parents, it can be decidedly more difficult.  As often as custodial interference is a part of any child custody dispute, it’s often right at the top of the list for the unwed parents.  This impacts a lot of people as the statistics for unwed parents and child custody so clearly indicate.

In such cases, it’s decidedly easier for a high-conflict mother to keep a child born of an unmarried relationship away from the biological father.  The level of work required of the biological father is substantially higher in terms of establishing paternity and asserting their rights to be a parent to their child, among other issues.

Our key tips for the early stages of a child custody case involving unwed parents:

  1. Consult an attorney.  Find out about the process for making a child custody claim and for the establishment of paternity.
  2. Establish paternity.  The moment you find out you are or may be the father of a child, quickly research the process for filing a child custody claim and for the establishing paternity.  If the mother is uncooperative in this endeavor, the court may ultimately order one.
  3. Take a parenting class.  Even if you feel you don’t “need” one, taking a parenting class is the first best step to demonstrating the seriousness with which you take your ultimate role in your child’s life.  Since they are so often ordered in situations such as these, you may even save yourself some time down the road as your child custody case gains momentum.
  4. If you relationship with your ex-partner is low-conflict, consider taking a co-parenting class or attending co-parenting counseling to build a foundation for a cooperative parenting future for yourselves and a best-case outcome for your child.
  5. For ongoing communication with your ex-partner, consider the use of a popular family management program such as Our Family Wizard.

If your situation is without conflict and contentiousness, by all means work with the other parent to establish a preliminary parenting arrangement.  Even if it’s simply “visitation,” you start to create the important parent-child bond at the earliest possible time.  Focus on the needs of the child as a priority when determining what arrangement works best in the interim.

Just because the romantic relationship with your ex-partner is over, it doesn’t mean that the relationship you will have as parents to the child will end anytime soon.  Both of you have a right to a happy, healthy relationship with the child.  Children need both parents as a substantial part of their life and shared parenting works if both parents put forth their best cooperative effort.