Does a single mother automatically have sole child custody?

Photo of attorney Melinda L. Singer

More and more people nationwide, including in New Jersey, choose not to marry. A significant percentage of children are born out of wedlock, and while many couples parent those children in the same way that married parents would do, there are cases in which there are absent fathers. If a child is born and the birth certificate indicates no father, the mother might have questions about her legal child custody rights.

Does the fact that there is no father indicated give the mother sole custody of the child? Does she have to apply for legal custody rights as the single parent? What will happen if the father chooses to claim custody rights in the future? While the child custody laws vary from state to state, all the courts base their decisions about these matters on the best interests of the child.

On the other hand, there are many advocates for the importance of having both parents present in a child’s life. Based on that, mothers might have a hard time denying the father access to the child — except if there is proof of abuse or other dangers to the child. However, the only way in which an unmarried father can get legal custody would be to establish paternity legally.

Unmarried mothers in New Jersey can get answers about child custody from an experienced family law attorney. A lawyer can also provide support and guidance in the process of establishing paternity if that is what the client wants. As long as the focus remains on the best interests of the child, the court will likely favorably consider any child custody-related petition.

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