Children are born out of wedlock under a variety of circumstances. Sometimes there's a long-term relationship, sometimes a one-night stand. Sometimes the father is involved all the way and sometimes the father isn't informed until months or years after the child's birth. Some fathers choose not to be involved and try to avoid responsibility. Other fathers try to be as involved as the mother will permit. Some unmarried parents work very well together, some don't get along at all, and others can set up a plan and follow it, even when the parents don't really like each other.
Obviously, there are many different circumstances when a child is brought into the world with parents who aren't married. One factor that almost always appears is a court order to officially establish who the father is and then set child support and terms of access to the child. It will also allocate the rights of parents between the two parents. All together, that amounts to a custody determination.
In most cases where a child is born out of wedlock, the child ends up with the mom who has most of the significant parental rights and has the child the majority of the time. The father usually is ordered to pay child support and has visitation rights. In the future, child support and visitation often become repetitive sources of conflict between the parents.
In a few cases, the father of the baby decides to try to win custody of the child. For the fathers who are considering such actions, here are some issues to consider.
1. Do you really want the responsibility that goes with having primary custody? Or do you just want a lot of time with the child? Do you want decision-making powers, or want to share them, or does that matter to you? What are your underlying goals or needs? These are questions you should answer and discuss with your attorney.
2. Are you prepared to take primary care of a child? Do you have the knowledge and experience to be able to deal with your child's needs in an age-appropriate manner? You can certainly learn, but there are a lot of things you will need to do that you may not intuitively know.
3. How do you compare to the other parent on parenting issues? Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. A judge will be evaluating both parents to determine who has the best skills, experience and attitude for taking care of a child. If possible, you should be able to demonstrate your competence as a parent.
4. If you haven't been the primary caregiver, why should the court switch to you? That's really a key question. Even if this may be the first official custody determination for your child, there is a natural tendency to view it as an issue of whether custody should be modified or changed, if one parent has had significant time where she has been the primary or only parent involved. You need to have some powerful reasons why the court should upset the living arrangements. It's not always best to leave a child where he/she has been, but it is common for a judge to start with a preference to not change a stable arrangement.
5. Ultimately, what is in the child's best interest? That is, absolutely, the bottom-line issue. You need to be able to articulate what the child's best interest is and why you are in the best position to help meet your child's actual needs.
If you are considering fighting for custody for a child born out of wedlock, you should think carefully before you start the fight. Try to figure out what your real underlying interests are. Don't get stuck just thinking about possible solutions. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Are you prepared for a tough, expensive and emotional fight? Think and analyze before you act. Get counsel from wise family members and friends, but lean heavily on the advice of an experienced family law attorney who has seen and been involved in such cases in the past.
Remember to look before you leap!