Fighting for Custody as a Married vs. Unmarried Parent: What is the Difference?

In an ideal world, both parents would always play a shared role in the raising of their children. Generally speaking, most parents want to play a central role in this process – so much so that they are willing to fight for their custody rights. One of the most important factors that affect custody battles is the marital status of the parents. While North Carolina is of the opinion that children benefit from the presence of both their mothers and fathers in their lives, they may not give each parent equal rights. So how does your marital status affect your custody battle in North Carolina?

North Carolina Does Not Favor Either Parent After a Divorce

First of all, it is important to note that North Carolina does not have any bias toward either the mother or the father after a divorce. The gender of the parent simply does not enter into the discussion when the family courts attempt to determine the child’s best interests. Instead, courts consider a number of additional factors that have nothing to do with gender. These factors may include past misconduct committed by either parent, the distance between the parents’ homes, the child’s relationships with siblings and extended family members, their connection to their community, and the child’s preference.

Note that although North Carolina views the mother and father equally after a divorce, this does not mean that the mother and father will automatically get shared physical and legal custody. The courts may start the process of determining custody with the presumption of shared parental rights. However, they may shift preference to one parent after considering various factors. Depending on the degree to which these factors affect the child’s best interests, this might result in a number of possibilities. One parent might only get custody of the children every other weekend. They might only have infrequent, unsupervised visits.

The Situation Changes for Unmarried Couples

While North Carolina makes it clear that they give equal parental rights to mothers and fathers after divorce, the situation changes for unmarried couples. In this case, the mother is presumed to have a natural right to custody. This means that she gets primary custody in a fairly automatic manner. The mother is clearly in the driver’s seat when it comes to all decisions that might affect the life of her child. She is also fully within her rights to move far away from the father and actively prevent him from seeing his children.

If the father wishes to fight for custody in this situation, he must establish paternity. Often, paternity is established shortly after the child is born while at the hospital. With this method, the father’s name is placed on the birth certificate. If the father’s name is never placed on the birth certificate, he will receive no rights as a father until he establishes paternity. Often, the father must file a paternity lawsuit in order to establish his biological relationship with the child and fight effectively for his parental rights.

In some cases, the mother is the one who brings forth a paternity lawsuit. This is often the case if the father seems to be avoiding their responsibilities as a parent and denies any relationship with the child. There may be certain advantages to the mother if paternity is established, such as access to child support. A mother can potentially force a father to take a paternity test by obtaining a court order.

Once a father establishes their own paternity, they can theoretically pursue visitation rights and physical custody. The mother may retain primary physical custody, but the children may still stay with the father on the weekends, for example. In some cases, fathers may establish that the mother is unfit to act as a primary guardian and take primary custody instead.

Where Can I Find an Experienced Custody Attorney in North Carolina?

If you have been searching for a child custody attorney in North Carolina, look no further than Arnold & Smith, PLLC. Over the years, we have helped numerous divorcing spouses across the Tar Heel State, including those who are fighting for the custody of their children. In addition, we have provided assistance to unmarried spouses who are also fighting for custody. While certain genders may encounter greater challenges as they approach custody disputes depending on their marital state, there is always the potential to play an active role in your child’s life. Book your consultation today to get started with an effective action plan and begin fighting for your parental rights.