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Upon establishing paternity, how can a father gain physical custody rights to a child?

Back in August we discussed how unwed fathers can establish paternity and legal rights to a child. As we discussed in our post, unwed fathers have no legal rights to a biological child unless and until they go through the legal process of establishing paternity. Once paternity has been established, either voluntarily by both parents or by a court order, a father may file a petition seeking child custody or visitation rights.

In cases where a father who is unwed or who is not married to their child's mother seeks joint physical custody of a child, it's best when both parents are able to negotiate a shared custody agreement with the aid of their respective attorneys. In cases where parents are not able to agree about the terms of a shared physical custody agreement, custody terms are decided by the courts.

When making decisions related to child custody, the courts will take each parent's wishes into considerations as well as a child's wishes. Additionally, the courts will review each parent's relationship with the child, the child's current living situation and the effect a disruption to that situation could have on a child's wellbeing.

Other factors that must be taken into consideration include the age and health of a parent and child and each parent's willingness to support a child's relationship with the other parent. In cases where there has been a history of domestic violence or abuse, the courts must also closely examine the details related to the case and the impact, if any, on a child.

In cases where a father is granted some sort of joint physical custody rights, both parents must follow the rules and procedures outlined in the custody order. If a child's mother refuses to abide by the terms of the order, a father may seek legal assistance to ensure the order is enforced or to seek changes to the existing custody agreement.

Matters related to child custody are highly emotional and can quickly become contentious. It's wise, therefore that parents who are dealing with child custody issues avoid taking matters into their own hands and instead seek the advice and assistance of an attorney as quickly as possible.

Source: LawHelpMN. org, "Rights and Responsibilities of Unmarried Parents," 2014

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