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Who Gets Custody of a Child If the Parents Aren’t Married?

Families come in all shapes and sizes. Some couples decide to move forward with marriage, and some are happy to remain unwed. There is no right or wrong way to start a family. However, unmarried couples who have children together and decide to separate can face child custody challenges.

At The McKeon Law Firm, we understand Maryland’s family law statutes. Our goal is to help families seek a favorable resolution to their child custody situation. In the case of unmarried parents, there are some differences in how Maryland addresses the issue of child custody.

Unmarried Parents and Child Custody

Before the matter of custody can be addressed, paternity needs to be established. Generally, the birth mother is considered the child’s custodian until paternity is established.

A father can establish paternity in several ways. The father can complete an affidavit signed by himself and the mother stating that he is the father and have his name entered on the birth certificate. Many times this has already been done prior to any custody action beginning. The court can adjudicate that he is the father if they’re satisfied with the proof provided. A man can declare himself to be the child’s father either orally or in writing without objection from the mother. He can also establish paternity through genetic testing.

Once paternity is determined, both the mother and the father, although unwed, have equal rights to the child and can pursue custody of the child if they no longer wish to pursue a relationship with each other.

Reaching a Child Custody Agreement

In some situations, parents can reach a mutually beneficial arrangement that addresses the needs of the child and benefits both parental figures. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and sometimes it takes the intervention of a Maryland court to help unwed parents reach an agreement. In Maryland child custody cases, a judge will always consider what is in the best interests and welfare of the child. To help a judge determine what is best for the child, they will typically consider:

  • Who is the child’s primary caregiver?
  • The physical, emotional, and financial fitness of each parent
  • The living arrangements of each parent
  • Age, gender, and health of the child
  • The length of the parent’s separation
  • The character and reputation of each parent
  • Whether there is a history of abuse or abandonment by a parent
  • Whether there is a history of domestic abuse
  • The child’s preference, depending on the child’s age and maturity

Based on these factors, a judge can issue either joint or sole custody to unwed parents.

There are two distinct categories of custody, legal and physical. Physical custody refers to where the child primarily resides. Legal custody is the right of a parent to make decisions about the child’s health and welfare. Parents without custody may still be granted visitation rights and parenting time.

Although unwed, once parentage is established, a court may also require a non-custodial parent to pay child support to the custodial parent. Maryland courts use a child support formula to determine the amount a parent is responsible for paying. The Maryland Department of Human Services has a child support calculator online that will estimate your approximate financial responsibility. However, an experienced family law attorney can give you a better idea of what to expect depending on your unique situation.

Contact a Maryland Family Law Attorney Today

Separating from someone you love is never easy, whether you are married or not. Separation is even more challenging when a child is involved. At The McKeon Law Firm, we know you only want what is best for your child. Our compassionate legal team can review the circumstances of your case and help you pursue the most favorable outcome possible.

We are committed to offering you a personal approach to your private legal matter. For a confidential care evaluation, call our Maryland family law office at (301) 417-92 or contact us online.

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