Fortunately, the days of judges deciding in custody cases that mothers are naturally the better parents are largely a thing of the past. However, that doesn't mean that fathers don't have to fight for custody of their children -- particularly if they are seeking full custody. There are some essential things that fathers should be aware of, whether they're seeking custody after a break-up or divorce, or they wish to appeal or amend an existing custody order.
If Necessary, Establish Paternity
First, if you have not legally established your paternity, you need to do that. Laws related to paternity if the parents weren't married either when the child was conceived or born vary by state. Keep in mind that once you establish paternity, you may be required to pay child support, if you don't already.
Understand the Types of Child Custody
Besides joint and full custody, it's important to understand the difference between legal and physical custody. A parent who has full custody will generally have both physical and legal custody. If you and your co-parent share joint custody, you are splitting physical custody and may also split legal custody.
In some cases, parents will share legal custody, with each having a say in things like education, medical care and religious upbringing, while only one parent has physical custody. Usually in these cases, the non-custodial parent has liberal visitation rights. It's essential to discuss the various options with your family law attorney.
What Factors Do Judges Consider?
It's usually best for everyone involved if parents can work out a custody and visitation agreement on their own with the help of their attorneys. However, if they're unable to do that, the matter will be decided by a judge. Judges are tasked with considering what's in the children's best interests. They consider factors such as both parents' relationships with the children, their ability to support them and, if the kids are old enough to weigh in, what they would prefer.
Whatever the circumstances are regarding your relationship with your child and your co-parent, it's essential to seek guidance from an experienced family law attorney who is well-versed in the laws of your state. Your attorney can help you build a strong custody case so that you can remain part of your child's life and participate in his or her upbringing.
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