Child Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

Child Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

Child custody, visitation, and support is an important part of the divorce process. But when an unmarried couple separates, arrangements for their children are often left up in the air. Parents should try their best to maintain a civil relationship with their former partner, for the sake of the child. However, even in an amicable, cooperative situation, setting up legal arrangements for your children is the best way to protect your parental rights. In this post, we answer some frequently asked questions about parental rights and child custody laws for unmarried couples.

Does primary custody always go to the mother?

When a child is born to unwed parents in South Carolina, sole physical custody is automatically assumed by the biological mother. A father must take action to be awarded any kind of parental rights. An unmarried father may find it very difficult to win custody over a good mother. If he takes the proper legal steps, however, he can secure some custody or visitation rights.

How does the child custody process work?

For divorcing couples, the husband is presumed to be the father for any children conceived during the time of marriage. But the first step for unwed parties seeking custody arrangements is to establish paternity with the court. Paternity can be established in a number of ways, but usually a simple genetic test will suffice.

Parents are then encouraged to work together to create a parenting plan (also called a parenting agreement). A parenting plan details custody and visitation arrangements, as well as agreements on other major parenting decisions like health care and education. If the two parties agree on a parenting plan, a judge can sign off on it and incorporate it into a legally binding court order.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement through mediation, one or both parents can petition the court to grant their custody or visitation requests. They will be granted a hearing, and a judge will decide what custody and visitation arrangements are in the best interest of the child. If modifications to these arrangements need to be made, parents can make changes through mediation or by petitioning the court.

What will the Court look at when deciding custody?

If custody is to be decided by a judge or jury, the Court will try to answer the following questions to determine custody arrangements:

  • What is in the best interest of the child? (This is the most important factor)
  • Who is the primary caregiver?
  • What is the child’s preference (if old enough)?
  • Are the parents financially stable?
  • Do the parents demonstrate good moral character?
  • Is there a history of violence, drug abuse, or neglect?

Contact Us Today for Professional Assistance

If you have recently split from your child’s other parent and do not have a parenting plan in place, it is best to speak with a child custody lawyer right away. Even unmarried couples with no intentions of breaking up may want to proactively make arrangements together to protect their parental rights. Serving Mt. Pleasant, Charleston, and the surrounding areas, the experienced attorneys at Klok Law Firm LLC can give you the legal help you need.

Contact us today for help.