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How can unwed fathers obtain custody and visitation rights?

In a July post, we discussed why it's so important for unwed fathers in Illinois to establish paternity. Most importantly, a father who is not married to his child's biological mother has no legal parental rights to his child. This means a mother retains sole legal and physical custody and can even put a child up for adoption without notifying or obtaining consent from the child’s biological father.

Once an unwed father has taken steps to establish paternity, he is legally recognized as a child's father. This means a father may petition the court to obtain child custody and visitation rights. When possible, it's best when a child's parents are able to come to an agreement on their own and establish a parenting agreement which then becomes legally enforceable when filed with the court.

In cases where parents are not able to agree about the terms of a child custody or visitation agreement, the matter may be litigated in court and determined by a family law judge. For fathers who are desperate to know their child and be part of his or her life, it's important to take legal action.

Fortunately, in contested child custody matters between unwed parents, family law courts typically "presume that children benefit from having both parents involved in their upbringing." When making any decisions regarding custody or visitation, the courts take a child's best interests into consideration. Thankfully, family courts today widely recognize the critical and unique role a father plays in a child's life and are therefore likely to provide a father with regular access to a child.

Unwed fathers in Illinois who have questions or concerns about child custody matters would be wise to seek the advice and counsel of a family law attorney who handles both fathers' rights and child custody matters.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Child Visitation, Child Custody and Unmarried Fathers," 2014

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