Child Custody Laws for Single Parents

Updated March 23, 2017

The parental rights of unmarried parents differ somewhat from the rights of married couples. This is especially true for single fathers who have never been married to their children's mothers. Custody issues can become complicated with single parents because several factors must be considered before a custody determination can be made.


Single parents who have never been married to one another must establish paternity for custody and other reasons. The law automatically assumes that a child born to a married couple is the child of the husband. This assumption does not exist for single fathers.

If a single father would like to obtain sole or joint custody of his child, he must first file a form called a "voluntary acknowledgment of custody," or in some cases, take a DNA test and file the results with the court in order to have any parental rights. This will legally establish the man as the child's father and allow him to pursue custody rights. A Single mother must also ensure that the paternity of her child is established if she would like to collect child support or other financial support.

Custody Filing and Visitation

Once paternity is established, both parents may file for sole or shared custody. Custody is usually awarded to one parent while the other has visitation. If both parents are actively involved in the upbringing of the child and can jointly agree on the specifics of parenting, they can create their own custody agreement. When custody agreements are done in this manner, most courts approve them. If the parents cannot agree, they must go to court so that a judge can make a determination that is in the "best interest of the child."

Child Custody Jurisdiction

A significant legal matter that affects single parents is custody jurisdiction. Single parents often move to pursue other relationships or job opportunities. If the move is across state lines, the custody rights of the other parent are affected. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act was created to discourage multiple custody decisions about the same child across state lines. The act declares that the court that had jurisdiction of the original custody determination keeps it. The act also protects the rights of the parent that was left behind. If a parent leaves the state without the other parent's knowledge, the parent left behind has the right to petition the court to have the child returned to him or her.

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About the Author

Sherrie Scott is a freelance writer in Las Vegas with articles appearing on various websites. She studied political science at Arizona State University and her education has inspired her to write with integrity and seek precision in all that she does.