Can an unmarried father get custody?

As with so many legal questions, the answer to this one is “yes…but.” In terms of getting custody of your child as an unmarried father, yes you can. However, you must first establish paternity of him or her. Perhaps you have already done this by means of a voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity that you and your child’s mother signed sometime after your child was born. If not, you will need to go to court and petition the judge to declare you the biological father of your child. You will need to undergo a DNA test in order to prove your paternity.

FindLaw explains that once you have established paternity, your parental rights as an unmarried father are the same as any other parent. You can therefore get custody of your child if the court determines that this is in his or her best interests.

Conservatorship versus possession

Texas law distinguishes between conservatorship, your right to make legal decisions for your child, and possession and access, your actual physical custody of him or her.

As your child’s conservator, you have the following rights:

  • Determination of his or her primary residence
  • Determination of his or her medical and dental treatments
  • Determination of his or her school, church, etc.
  • Access to his or her medical and school records

As your child’s possessory parent, you have the following rights and responsibilities:

  • Care and control of him or her
  • Protection of him or her
  • Reasonable discipline of him or her
  • Financial support of him or her

Texas also recognizes two types of conservatorship: sole conservatorship where one parent has exclusive right to make decisions for the child and joint conservatorship where both parents share these decision-making rights and responsibilities.

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