How Unmarried Couples Can Navigate Custody Rights.

by Ball Morse Lowe on November 22, 2018

Co parenting

According to a study by Princeton University, half of unmarried fathers don’t live with their children at birth. Without a custody order, an unmarried father is essentially powerless to see his child without the permission of the mother. 

Divorced couples have one great advantage over unmarried parents, which is that they don’t have to establish who the father of the child is.  When they go to Court, the married parents walk in the courtroom on equal footing with equal rights and responsibilities that have been pre-established by the court.

But for unmarried couples, specifically the father, it can be a tougher road to tread since the father is not recognized as the father until the Court declares him the father. Today, we’ll discuss how unmarried couples can navigate their custody rights as well as key issues in the process to watch for.

(Free checklist: 15 Child Custody Factors to Discuss With Your Spouse Before a Divorce)


Establishing Paternity 

The court will only award parental rights to a father once paternity has been established. Paternity can be proven by a paternity test or by the father and mother acknowledging whom the father is in court.  If an unmarried father signed an affidavit of paternity at the time of the child’s birth, the process of submitting a paternity test may not be necessary.


Custody and Visitation

Once paternity is established then the parents still have to determine custody and visitation rights.  As far as custody goes, both parents may be awarded joint legal and physical custody of a child. This requires the parents to consult each other on all major decisions concerning what’s in the child’s best interest. In another scenario, one parent may be awarded sole custody while the other may be granted reasonable rights of visitation. 

In terms of visitation, parents can come up with any visitation arrangement they desire. However, if they’re unable to come to a mutual understanding, the judge will determine visitation rights. For more information on how Oklahoma determines child custody, click here.


Child Support

Child support can be a bit trickier. Both parents, married or not, are required by law to support the child. The amount is calculated based on the Oklahoma Child Support Guidelines. This formula takes into account both parties’ incomes as well as the physical custody arrangements.

In a situation where parents share equal time with the child, the parent with the higher income will usually pay the other child support. This amount may be modified as incomes increase or decrease over time. In scenarios where one parent receives less time with the child, they will have the obligation to pay child support.

If a parent doesn’t pay (and has the ability to do so), the other has the right to file an application for contempt for failure to obey the court order against the non-paying parent. The State of Oklahoma may also choose to file charges against the parent.


Married vs. Unmarried Couples

As we mentioned above, unmarried couples generally face one more complication when it comes to their custody case, which is establishing who the father is.  Married fathers are automatically presumed to be the child’s father while unmarried fathers must sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity or prove their legal standing in some way.

Prior to a court order, for married fathers, state laws essentially give them equal custodial and decision-making rights as mothers because it is assumed that married parents live together and have raised the children together. This is not the case with unmarried parents, when a child is born to unmarried parents, even though a father may sign a paternity acknowledgment form, the mother essentially has sole custody until a court order says otherwise.


The Importance of an Attorney

As you can see, the process of navigating paternity rights and child custody can be difficult for unmarried couples. This is why it’s important to consult with an experienced attorney who serves in your best interest. To learn more about paternity and child custody in Oklahoma, we invite you to reach out to us today at (405) 701-6376.


There are several factors to consider with child custody

Whether you’re married or unmarried, there are 15 child custody questions you’ll need to address with your partner. Click below to access your free copy of the checklist now. 

15 Child Custody Factors To Hash Out Before A Divorce