4 Things Unmarried Parents Should Know About Legal Custody

by Ball Morse Lowe on April 30, 2019


Cases of child custody are incredibly complex, involving many factors and leading to a variety of outcomes. If you haven’t already read our prior blog posts on custody, you should know before continuing that there are many different types of custody, from joint to sole, physical to legal.

With that in mind, things get even more complicated if the two parents are not married. While laws are different in each state, unmarried parents still have a different set of challenges when navigating child custody cases. The court would prefer for children to be cared for by both parents, and the well being of the child is the highest priority. We’ve created this short guide to help you understand custody for unmarried parents before you get started with your case.

(If you need more detailed information about custody, download our free guide today)

Legal Custody

As we’ve mentioned, there are many types of custody, but they typically fall under the umbrellas of either physical or legal custody. While physical custody refers to which parent or parents are responsible for the child’s physical home and well being, legal custody is connected to legal decisions, such as where the child will attend school, the child’s medical care, and even religious practices.


In the state of Oklahoma, if a child is conceived out of wedlock to unmarried parents, the mother automatically retains sole custody of the child, including both legal and physical responsibilities. 

When a child is born to married parents, the husband is presumed to be the father. In order to change these circumstances, a father must prove paternity, either through a court case or paternity test. Sometimes when the child is born, the father can either be listed on the birth certificate, or if not, he can sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity with the mother at the hospital. These are both helpful documents to have. In cases where the mother refuses either of these paths, the father would then have to proceed through testing or the court system.

It’s important to know that a birth certificate does not establish legal paternity, which is what we are talking about here. Advice from a lawyer is the best way to protect your custody rights. And remember, there are more benefits than just legal responsibility to being a legal father, such as psychological reasons, your child’s medical history, and even their inheritance.

The Child’s Best Interest

As we said, the court’s highest priority is the best interest of the child or children in question. Custody is different than paternity. Even after the father has established himself as the child’s legal parent, the court may still not grant both parents equal legal custody, based on a number of factors.

It’s important to remember that the court is not necessarily against either parent at the start. Their goal is to provide the best possible situation for the child or children to thrive, and they prefer both parents to be guardians and custodians of their children. However, the court must see that each parent has the ability to provide for the child with high moral standing as well as both parents’ willingness to make sure their former partner is part of the child’s life.


After the court proceedings have ended and the dust has settled, both parties have agreed upon or been given custodial and visitation rights. This means that, even if one parent is not paying their allotted child support, the other parent cannot deny visitation rights. However, this goes both ways; if one parent is refusing visitation, the other must continue to pay. Any disagreements about this must be taken to the court.

We know child custody cases can be emotional, stressful and downright difficult. But being prepared beforehand helps alleviate the hardship. If you’d like to learn more about the process of filing child custody in Oklahoma, contact us today, or download our free guide below.

The Process of Filing for Child Custody in Oklahoma