There are many circumstances when a non-biological father has a strong emotional bond to a child. For example, many stepparents, same sex partners, and long-term boyfriends are devoted to their partner’s children. Other times, a man may believe that child is his biological child, only to discover later that he is not the biological father. Fortunately, states are increasingly granting non-biological fathers parental or visitation rights.

When the Non-Biological Father Is a Legal Parent

Under certain circumstances, a non-biological father is considered a legal parent. Legal parents have all the parental rights of a biological father or mother. You may be a legal parent if:

  • You adopted the child,
  • The child was born during your marriage to the mother, or
  • You signed the child’s birth certificate.

If you are the child’s legal parent, custody and child support is awarded based on a series of factors (focusing on the child’s best interests).

When the Non-Biological Father Is Not a Legal Parent

Things are more complicated if you are neither a biological father nor a legal parent of the child.  Some states do not award non-biological parents any rights—even if they have been highly involved in the child’s life. In other states, you may have custody rights under certain circumstances.

If you need help understanding your state’s rules, contact an experienced family law attorney. Do not assume that you cannot win custody or visitation rights without the opinion of a knowledgeable lawyer.

Can the Biological Parents Terminate the Non-Biological Father’s Parental Rights?

A biological father can file a paternity claim, asserting that he is the child’s legal father. The court may determine that based on DNA evidence, the biological father is the child’s legal parent. If another man has claimed paternity of your child, you may want to contact an experienced family law attorney. 

What If the Child Already Has a Biological Father?

Some states, including California, recognize that a child can have more than two legal parents. You also may be able to argue that you are a de facto parent under certain circumstances. De facto parents must show that they consistently:

  • Accepted parental responsibilities,
  • Lived with the child,
  • Have an emotional bond with the child, and
  • The biological parent encouraged your parent-child relationship.

De facto parents may have some parental rights. Again, state law varies dramatically. If you need help understanding your state’s rules, contact a family law attorney.

What Does the Court Take into Consideration in Granting Parental Rights?

In states that grant parental rights to non-biological fathers or mothers, you must show that your relationship with the child mimics a parent-child relationship. The court may consider factors such as the length of your relationship and the strength of the emotional bond. A lawyer can help you present a compelling case for parental rights. (However, not all states recognize parental rights for non-biological parents.)

What Other Rights Do Non-Biological Parents Have Other than Child Custody?

Even if you cannot receive full parental rights, you may be eligible for visitation. All visitation decisions are based on the best interests of the child. The courts consider a series of factors when determining a child’s best interest. These factors typically include:

  • The emotional, developmental, and physical needs of the child,
  • The strength of your parent-child relationship,
  • Your age, physical, and mental health,
  • The child’s need for stability, and
  • Evidence of abuse or domestic violence, and
  • The child’s wishes (if age appropriate).

Importantly, a parent’s gender is not considered as a factor when determining the child’s best interests.

Should I Seek an Attorney to Assist with a Child Custody Case?

Child custody claims are emotionally fraught and complicated—especially when you are a non-biological parent. Since so much is at stake, you should seriously consider hiring an experienced child custody attorney. A custody lawyer can ensure that you present the best possible claim to the judge at your custody hearing.