Handling Child Custody When Unmarried

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Almost everyone knows somebody who has gone through a divorce. And it is not hard to find a story about how messy a divorce can be. Divvying up all of a couple’s assets and finances can be frustratingly difficult, and deciding custody and visitation rights for a child can be almost unbearable for a parent. But what if you have a child with someone without marrying, and break up?

Handling Child Custody When Unmarried

How do the Courts Treat Unmarried Couples?

When courts are dealing with unmarried couples, they treat child custody cases in many ways as if the couple is married. Just like with married couples, most courts require unmarried couples to try and come to an agreement on child custody and visitation by themselves outside of court.

However if the parents are unable to come to an agreement, then the matter must be settled through court proceedings. Just as it is helpful to married couples, it is smart to hire a Maryland child custody lawyer with cases of unmarried couple child custody.

Who Usually Gets the Child?

There is no definitive answer to this question and it varies from case to case. . However, if the mother and father both seek custody, and they cannot settle it out of court, the court will decide custody and visitation. In the past, it might have been said that , custody goes to the mother if all things are equal, but this is no longer the case. Both parents generally start on equal footing.

The Judge makes the decision based on numerous factors, typically looking out for the best interest of the child. Some of these factors may include:

  • The child’s preference, depending on the age of a child, and the child’s reasoning
  • Any history of abuse
  • Who the primary caregiver is
  • Parent’s wishes and ability to cooperate
  • Each parent’s ability to provide for the child
  • Proximity of Parent’s living arrangements
  • Level of safety for the child
  • And many more factors

What if Neither Parent Can Receive Custody?

For whatever reason, if both parents are not able to receive custody, there are other options. Sometimes both parents are deemed unfit and neither are deemed worthy of having custody rights. In these cases a relative or close family friend can seek what is called “non-parental” custody or guardianship.

The courts have specific proceedings which must be followed in guardianship cases. The person seeking custody must petition the court and explain why they should have custody, and why neither parent should have custody. The services of a Maryland child custody lawyer can greatly increase the chances of someone in gaining guardianship.

Different Levels of Custody

As has been mentioned throughout this post and previous blogs posts, there are different levels of child custody, the most common being:

  • Legal Custody: Parents with legal custody can make decisions regarding the child’s well-being
  • Physical Custody: Children live with parents who have physical custody
  • Sole Custody: Sole custody means one parent has both legal and physical custody over a child.
  • Joint Legal Custody: Joint legal custody means both parents have legal custody and have to work together in order to decide what is best for the child. Any disputes are handled in court.
  • Joint Physical Custody: Joint physical custody means the child splits time living with both parents.

Visitation Rights

Regardless of a parent’s level of custody they can still receive visitation rights. A parent can have no custody over the child at all, yet still retain visitation rights. Visitation rights vary from case to case, but typically they mean the parent gets to maintain a relationship with the child. Visitation rights vary in time span and sometimes must be court monitored.

For more information on child custody law, give the Maryland family law attorneys at Alan L. Billian, P.A. a call today. We can help you determine your best course of action and execute an effective plan to help you obtain the best possible outcome for your situation.


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