Custody rights for a father generally refers to the biological father’s ability to obtain legal or physical custody of their child(ren). Biological parents have a right to seek legal or physical custody of their child or child visitation, regardless of whether they were married or not when the child was born. As a father, you are still a biological parent, and, thus, you have as much parental rights to your child as their biological mother does.

Historically, the law was stacked against father that sought physical and legal custody of their child. However, presently both the law and courts have become more unbiased as to their perspective on grating a father legal or physical custody of their child. Discussions of child custody rights typically become necessary in situations involving divorce, legal separation, where the other parent cannot assume custody responsibilities, or when there has been a substantial change that affect a previous custody order.

Generally speaking, most courts prefer to grant custody to the children of the biological parents, if at all possible; this is based on the assumption that granting the biological parents custody is in the best interests of the child. However, a judge must still determine whether a particular custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child.

So, as a father, the court will likely conduct an evaluation of you in order to determine if you are fit for caring for the child. In conducting the evaluation, a court will consider various aspects such as your history with the child, your financial status, your physical availability to care for the child, as well as your mental and emotional state.

Therefore, if you are a father seeking physical or legal custody of your child you should prepare to be evaluated, and possibly for a child custody battle.

How is Paternity Established?

In order to gain access to the rights of a biological father, paternity must be established. If you were married at the time the child was born, then the court will presume that the child was born from the fruits of the marriage, and paternity will be automatically established for the husband. As a father, if you were not married when your child was born, the first step in gaining child custody and other rights granted to biological fathers, is to legally establish paternity.

Generally, this means both parents signing and filing an acknowledgement of paternity with the court,  likely at the time of the child’s birth with the child’s birth certificate. Disputed paternity cases may occur however, and in these situations the legal process becomes more complicated and can even involve DNA testing to prove the child’s biological father.

It is important to note that some states have a statute of limitations as to how long a father has to establish paternity. Eventually, the court will rule as to who the child’s biological father is, and that named father may pursue child custody rights and other parental rights. Without establishing paternity, an unwed father will have no legal right to visitation or child custody.

Are there Different Types of Child Custody?

In short, yes. As mentioned above, child custody is primarily granted according the child’s best interest standard. A child’s best interests can involve a mix of different types of child custody.

There are two main types of child custody:

  • Physical Custody: Physical custody refers to the actual care of the child and where the child physically resides most of the time; and
  • Legal Custody: Legal custody refers to the authority for a parent to make important legal decisions regarding the child, such as medical decisions, signing documents, educational decisions, religious decisions, etc.

Traditionally, the mother was granted both physical and legal custody of the child. However, as noted above, courts have recently become less biased towards alternative custody arrangements.

These alternative custody arrangements include the following:

  • Joint Physical Custody: Joint physical refers to the situation where both parents are able to physically care for the child, and allows both parents frequent and ongoing contact with the child(ren). Joint custody is often preferred by the courts, as many judge’s consider both parents actively engaging in their child’s life as in the child’s best interest;
  • Sole Custody: Sole custody refers to the custody arrangement where the child lives with only one parent, while the other parent is simply granted visitation with the child. Often courts will not award sole custody, unless it is proven that it would not be in the child’s best interests to live with the other parent. Reasons a court may grant sole custody may include: the other parent doing drugs, an unsafe home, history of abuse, history of being absent in the child’s life, or that the other parent is simply unwilling to care for the child; or
  • Other Custody Arrangements: Other custody arrangements may also be granted by the courts. For instance, split custody is an arrangement where one parent may have physical custody of the child, but the other parent may retain legal custody of the child to make decisions. “Bird’s Nest” custody is another custody arrangement where the child remains in the family home, and the parents take turns living in the home.

As can be seen, if you are a fit parent, then a court will likely grant you joint custody of your child. In order to be granted joint custody of your child you should ask and demand for it, and be prepared to fight for it, if necessary. All in all, the custody arrangement will be determined based on the best interests of the child.

Should I Hire an Attorney for Help with Fathers Custody Rights?

If you are a father that is seeking to gain custody rights for your children, you should absolutely consult with a well qualified and experienced family law attorney. An experienced family law attorney can assist you with building up your case for custody rights, gaining additional custody or visitation rights, and even represent you in front of a court of law.

Further, a father rights attorney will be able to help you with other aspects that might be involved in a child custody case, such as determining child support or spousal support.