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How is child custody determined for unmarried parents?

When you have a child outside of marriage, you have special considerations about custody. However, regardless of marital status, both parents have an equal right to raise and spend time with their child.

Review the factors that influence child custody for unmarried parents in New York.

Paternity

The parents can establish legal paternity in two ways. If you both agree on the identity of the biological father, you can both sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity and submit it to the court. If either person has doubts about who fathered the child, they can petition the court to decide based on a DNA test. In this case, the mother retains physical and legal custody until the state determines who the baby’s father is.

Best interests of the child

Upon establishment of paternity, the father can petition the court for legal custody and physical custody or visitation. As with all custody cases, New York considers the child’s best interest when creating a custody arrangement. Factors in the best interest standard include:

  • The stability and safety of each parent’s home
  • Who will care for the child while the parent works
  • Who has served as the child’s primary caregiver thus far
  • Whether either parent struggles with untreated substance abuse
  • Each parent’s mental and physical health
  • Any history of abuse, neglect or abandonment by either parent
  • Each parent’s financial situation
  • The child’s preference depending on his or her age
  • Each parent’s willingness to foster educational opportunities for the child

After the court issues a child custody order, it becomes legally binding. You cannot change custody without returning to court.