Unless there are extenuating circumstances, all biological parents have the right to maintain a relationship with their children either through visitation or custody. This is true even if the parents were not married when the children were born. Courts usually make custody decisions based on what is in the best interest of the children, and it is usually believed that the involvement of both parents is best.
Before fathers who were not married to the child's mother can seek custody or visitation, they must establish paternity. In some cases, this may mean having both parents sign and file an acknowledgement of paternity. If paternity is disputed, a DNA test may have to be performed. After paternity is established, parents may negotiate an agreement that includes the details of joint custody or visitation.
If the parents cannot agree, either parent may request custody from the court. It is unlikely a father will be granted full custody if the mother has been the primary caregiver in the past. However, there may be instances where a father is granted sole custody due to drug problems, mental illness or domestic violence.
Resolving a child custody dispute can be difficult, especially if both parents want sole or primary custody of the children. Because courts usually believe that it is beneficial for both parents to be involved in their children's lives, it is likely the children's time will be split. A family law attorney may argue that the children already have a stable school and after-school routine set up and that it would be in the children's best interest to keep them in that schedule. This may mean that the other parent will receive certain visitation rights.