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How Is Custody Determined Between Unmarried Couples?
So, I am five months pregnant and trying to figure out how this whole custody issue is going to be dealt with after my baby is born. The father and I are unmarried, and he calls maybe once every other month and has recently stopped calling at all. I have a feeling when this child is born, he is going to want to be around, but only sporadically when it is convenient for him, but I want this child to be raised in a stable environment. I've gotten to the point where I don't even care about the child support anymore. I just care about the child's mental health and giving it a stable environment, and I can't leave that up to chance hoping that the father is going to come around, hoping that he will eventually grow up and take this "parenting-thing" seriously. How do I protect this child? I don't want to terminate his rights as a parent, I simply want to get full custody so I have the say-so of when he can see the child. Does anyone know the logistics or numbers I can call to get this taken care of? Do I need to get a lawyer? Does it differ from state to state [if so, I live in Appleton, Wisconsin]? Anyone been through this?
Posted by Megan on 07/02/2008 06:47 PM

I am kinda sorta going through the same thing. I am in the very beginning stages though. Let me just say that nothing is going to happen fast. My son is now 20 months old and we just now got paternity test results back, because his father ran. You will need genetic testing if the father does not sign the birth certificate. This is the only step we have actually accomplished so far. We are now in the process of trying to set up child support, but I never hear from my case worker at child support services so I don't even know where we are on that. Hope you have better luck than me.
posted by on 07/03/2008 07:44 AM

So I can't even get his name put on the birth certificate without a paternity test? My baby could be raised with a birth certificate that says father: "unknown"? I hate that my child has to go through this and it isn't even born yet...
posted by Megan on 07/03/2008 08:55 AM

If the father wants to sign the birth certificate then they won't have to do a paternity test because he will be "claiming" the child, but if not...well you read my last posting. It sucks, really, but it really shows you who you are.

You CAN do this without the baby's father. How much family support do you have? Let me tell you, your family will really help keep your spirits high if you have good family support. I have learned so much about myself since I had my son. I really am a strong woman, and so are you. Don't loose hope. Like Alecia Keys says, I am Super Woman!
posted by on 07/03/2008 11:01 AM

Thanks so much Kim! I really appreciate that! I don't know if I want to openly say this, but I'm sure I'm not the only one that has said this, but I think it might even be easier if he doesn't sign the birth certificate, then at least I have control over trying to make my baby's life the best I possibely can. I am done struggling with him to be a part of my baby's life. If he wants to be, then he's just going to have to try a little harder! Yay for women's [single parents :)] power!
posted by Megan on 07/03/2008 12:01 PM

I am a single mother, and my son is now 2 1/2 years old and has never met his father. He took off when i was 3 months pregnant and i haven't heard from him, i decided to leave his name off the birth certificate. My family supports my decision and is a huge help, I believe that i made the right choice with my situation, you are the only one that can decide what is right for your situation though. I will tell you though if given the chance in the same situation again i would do the same thing, it would only hurt my son more to have a father come in and out of his life than to be told what kind of person his father is and have the choice to pursue meeting his father if thats what he wants to do, either way its not easy but you will get through it
posted by kristi on 07/04/2008 12:06 AM

Hey there...first of all, I want to say, "hang in there." Second of all, I went through almost the same situation last year with my ex husband. We were only married for 2 weeks before he became abusive and threatened to kill my baby (held a loaded gun to my stomach.) Of course, right after this I got the hell out of there, got a divorce and started looking at all my options in order to keep him as far away from my son as possible. I convinced him that the baby should go up for adoption and after he agreed I had a lawyer right up some papers stating that we both give up our parental rights to the child (just wait....there's a twist.) By doing this, he can never have any parental rights to the child whatsoever. The rights of BOTH parents are given up simultaneously after the birth of the child. What I did then is have my parents adopt my son...I can adopt him back whenever I want after about 9 months (there is usually a home "inspection" for adoptive parents to make sure the home is fit and all that good stuff) BUT, since it was a close family adoption, my lawyer waived the fees for this (which is quite expensive) and called it good. So, all in all it only cost me about $1000 and my son's father will never have parental rights. However, after convincing him to sign over his parental rights, I kept it a secret that my parents were adopting my son (just so my ex didnt change his mind or think I was screwing him over.) My attorney said he was amazed that I had come up with such a great idea and that he is going to recommend doing this with future clients in similar situations. Also, I was told by my attorney that it doesn't matter who you put down for a father on the birth certificate...just because you have a name down doesn't actually mean that he is the father of the child and it doesn't lock him into anything. I was told that I could put any random name in that spot and it wouldn't make a damn difference. I just left it blank and when my son is old enough to understand the situation I will explain it all to him and let him know that I did what I did because I thought that there was a serious threat and that it was in his best interest. When I think that he is old enough and mature enough, if he has his heart set on meeting his biological father then I will set something up...where I will be there and we will be in a very safe and public meeting place. Hope this helps...if you have any questions just let me know...I'm more than willing to help in any way possible.
posted by Julie on 07/04/2008 04:22 PM

I have been in a similar situation also, my daughters dad wasnt around very much when i was pregnant for her he would pop in when it was convient for him, but with my situation his name is on my daughters birth certificate, but because we were never married thank god for that i have sole leagal custody of my daughter and any visitation that were to happen between her and father had to agreed upon by the both of us but if i didnt like it then he couldnt take my daughter. Which any way didnt really matter any way because he never really took her very often anyway and we wound up splitting up when she was a 1/1/2 yr old and he chose to be an in an out dad then he stopped coming around all together for almost a 1yr then back in 2007 he showed up again wanting to see her which i let him only on my terms until he was arressted in november. so i dont know all states work but that is my story i would just recomend keeping all court papers you get and if you dont understand something dont hesistate to call and find out what you need to know because the more you know about that then the better off youll be so good luck.
posted by amber on 07/06/2008 01:11 AM

The best advice I can give you at this point is to go talk to a lawyer. you can go and talk to somebody about it and most won't charge you, you can't terminate his rights untill the child is born, i went through this with my attorney when i was about 5 months pregnant, he told me my best bet was to leave the fathers name unknown and if he decided that he wanted to be a part of the babies life later down the road he would have no rights until he went through the court to get a paternity test done, which my attorney told me takes up to 8 months, then you will have to go to court after that, but if i were you i would go to a consultation with an attorney so you know exactly where you stand
posted by kristi on 07/07/2008 01:41 AM

Okay, so what I've found out is that I do not have to get a paternity test unless I want to, or he wants to. The catch is, is that I have to quit my job after the baby is born to take care of her and dedicate myself to school so I can get a good job in the future to support us. So, I have to get assistance through the state, because there are certain things that I just cannot afford on my own, for example baby's health insurance. The catch there is that they need determine who the father is to see if he can actually pay for the insurance that they will be giving my baby through the state! So I have to go through all of this anyway, just because I need insurance to take care of my baby! AND I'm doing all of the work of getting paternity determined for him AND I could lose full custody of my baby all because I have to quit my job to better care for my baby! I live in Wisconsin, and some people have been mentioning that Wisconsin judges have been favoring joint custody recently which completely sucks [for lack of a better word]! I did speak to a lawyer and he said that because the father of the baby has a misdemeanor on his record, I have a pretty good chance of getting full custody, but still there is that chance... My friend's tell me not to waste my money on getting a lawyer, but seriously, can I risk losing full custody and placement on this child just to save some money? I'm not going to deny the father visitation or anything like that, I just want the say so and the decision making power over the whole process, because I can't risk my baby going through what I went through with an in and out dad who ended up seriously screwing with my head. Plus, this man, the father, calls the baby a mistake! Can you believe that! A mistake, can you imagine how that is going to affect my baby's self-esteem as she's growing up?
posted by Megan on 07/09/2008 05:32 PM

The new belief is that having a father in their lives is best for all children, regardless of what the father is truly like.

Depending on what the father is like he will either disappear after the baby is born or will use the baby to torment you. If you go to a lawyer ask them about joint legal and sole physical custody- this will give him parenting time and the right to participate in major life decisions, but your baby would stay with you most of the time. They usually base the decision on the ability of the parents to get along and on who the baby knows best- which is usually not the father. There are also psychologists fighting the joint custody saying that it is detrimental to infants to be seperated from their mothers at that young of an age- it reduces their feelings of security.

Also, if you really don't want him to get custody- breastfeed. They will not take a breastfeeding infant from its mother- he may get parenting time but he would not get joint.

Wisconsin is a lot like Michigan in some regards so you may want to find out if there is an Affadavit of Prarentage- its a document for fathers to sign acknowledging paternity. If he doesn't sign it then he has to get a DNA test to prove paternity, also if he does sign it- he waives the right to a DNA test to prove the baby isn't his.
posted by Kate on 07/11/2008 12:50 PM

I forgot one thing- lawyers are not a waste of money. They can be expensive but they help. They know the laws, they know how to do things, and they know the people at the courts. And to be honest- it's nice to call someone and say- I need you to file a motion for me to get him to stop _________ (fill in the blank). Once you have your baby- your free time to do things like that is so limited that it could be detrimental to you and your baby. Having someone who can do it for you is a relief and a way to ensure that it can actually get done.
posted by Kate on 07/11/2008 12:53 PM

Okay, so I know no one can answer this for sure, but with the father having a misdimenor on his record and me living at home with my parents and quitting work to take care of the baby full-time, what do you think my chances are of getting full physical and sole custody of the child? I'm sure a lot of you understand my desire for full decision making power in this situation. I want to be able to say when, where and for how long the father of this baby can see this child without anyone questioning my authority....
posted by Megan on 07/11/2008 06:06 PM

ok so when i was about 5 months pregnant i went to an attorney for the same reason however my ex had a list of felonies, my attorney basically told me to deny paternity and act as though i did not know who the father was. I also have his health insurance through the state and get assistance with a few other things too, when i filed for assistance they told me that i needed to list 3 possible fathers and have them tested or i would not receive anything, i told them about his record and they told me as long as i had a friend write a letter about his behavior stating that him being involved in my son's life that it would be harmful emotionally to my son and that was all they needed and i received all the benefits. I also believe that the fact that you will be home with the baby will be on your side regardless of whether or not you need assistance, the states seem to be in favor of stay at home moms rather than children being passed back and forth and being fought over, its less costly to them, and you
posted by kristi on 07/11/2008 10:18 PM

Well i am going to share a story about my brother even though he was married at the time. When his daughter was born his xwife did not put his name on the birth certificate. They moved into a new place and a few days later she took off and just disapeared. My brother was trying to file for custody with the divorce and was told he couldn't do that without paternity since his name wasn't on the birthcertificate. He had to go to court many times to sourt it out before he could file.

Also his daughter came to visit him on fathers day (he was lkiving with me at the time). She dropped her off and he went to work. then 3 squad cars showed up at the house looking for my brother. She waited for him to go to work then called 911 and claimed he kidnapped her. The officers were going to arrest him and said it didn't matter because his name wasn't on the certificate. And since custody wasn't determined yet he couldn't prove he was the father. Luckily they saw it for what it was and took her outside where her mom climbed out of the squad car to get her and they drove off.

Anyhow my brother was awarded full custody and had his name added to the certificate. Alot has happened since then and she is no longer allowed to have children living with her.

I know he was married at the time but just wanted to share my experience as far as his name not being on the birth certificate. And i know laws vary state to state and sometimes individual police officers and judges can have a huge impact when they start throwing in their 2 cents.
posted by jason on 07/12/2008 05:22 AM

I hate that I have to fight for custody of my child with a person who has denied her existence for the past six months, who didn't even tell his mother that I was pregnant, who calls this child a mistake, who begged me to have an abortion, and who will not even return my phone calls to discuss custody! And on top of all of this, my mom, my only support, is telling me not to worry, that I can't control it, that there isn't even a point to thinking about it. How can I not worry? How can I not obssess over this? This is my child! All I want is the best for her, and I have to beg a judge, who has no idea of the baby's father's character, who just thinks that its best for a father to be in the child's life, not even considering what the father may be like, to give me full physical placement and custody of my baby! I am so frustrated!
posted by Megan on 07/17/2008 09:01 AM

You should definitely get a voice recorder and record any conversations you have with him or his family and friends. You can get them at Office Max, Office Depot, Walmart....places like that for pretty cheap. Get a small one that will fit in your pocket or purse so you can easily hide it if you are face to face with him. It's really easy to use them when recording phone conversations too. You can use them against him in court if you need to. Just make sure that you dont make it sound like you are setting him up to say bad things...just let the conversation carry on like it normally would. Especially if he is talking about not wanting the baby and wanting you to have an abortion and that kind of thing. It came in so handy for when I was going through this kind of situation with my ex husband. I caught him saying soooo many horrible things over the phone and they would have sealed the deal if I would have had to use them against him. I know it's hard not to worry about it...but you have to try for your baby's sake...that much stress during pregnancy isn't good for yourself or your unborn child. Take care of yourself and the little one... and hang in there.
posted by Julie on 07/17/2008 12:55 PM

Agree 100% with Julie
posted by jason on 07/18/2008 02:15 AM

Hi Megan,

I also live in Wisconsin. I have an infant who is 4 months. My son's father has not seen him in 2 months. I started action against him through Child support a few months ago. We had the DNA test done to prove he was the father. Anyways, he didnt want to go to court and neither did myself. So, I've settled for much less than what the courts would most likely do. The good thing is I can make the decisions on when my child visits his father and when. His father has a new girlfriend who likes to party it up. When they have their other children on weekends they leave them home alone and go out drinking. I'm totally against this. There's been problems which I'm aware of that go on with the other children because of them. I don't feel its in the best interest of my child to be around his girlfriend because they don't seem to care about the children or take care of htem when they're together. His girlfriend treats me like crap and I don't want my child or their children feeling the tension. I also have a a very difficult time knowing that he hasnt told his other children about our baby and he constantly lies. I have no trust for him whatsoever. If I was to let him take our baby I don't know if he would bring him back . Without a court order, I would have a difficult time proving that he was doing something wrong. Anyways, weve been fighting quite a lot because his girlfriend doesnt want him anywhere near me. She thinks that he shouldnt visit his child at my home, he should take him to his home, which my lawyer told me not to allow without court orders in place. What I can tell you is that the WI court system wants every child to know his father and to spend time with him regardless of what the other parent may think. It sucks when you know it's not in his/her best interest. If you get any kind of assistance, WI will force you to give them names of anyone who could be a possible father and you will be required to do DNA tests. The will require a father's name to be put on the birth certificate. If you don't want the name on there, it won't matter to them. They will make you go to court if the father doesnt sign it. At that point the court will decide the custody. I myself am not getting assistance. However, the father of my child wanted DNA testing and I was thinking about taking him to court at the time for child support so we had to do it. Now, he gets to put his name on the certificate. That doesnt however give him rights. If you're not married ot the father, he does not have rights unless they are court ordered. You have all the decision making as far as when he sees his child. If you go to court and they allow him parenting time or custody that you don't agree with. I myself have decided to not take the father to court at this time, I want to make the decision as to who takes care of my child and when. I feel I'm looking out for the best interest of my child and the state isnt. I'm with my child 24-7, why should I send my child to his father's home if the father is not around to take care of him during his so called "parenting time?" I would love to speak with you more...
posted by mel on 07/21/2008 03:19 AM


My son's father hasn't seen him in over 2 months. He hasn't told his other children or family about our baby either. I consider him a total loser and think my child's better off without him if he cant even acknowledge him. He's had the DNA results for over 2 months and still seems to have a problem believing he has another child.

posted by mel on 07/21/2008 03:29 AM

I cannot support my child or give her a good life that includes health insurance and all that jazz unless I get assistance through the state and they are going to force me to go to court, regardless of what I think or want for my child. I cannot get around this, period. So, it doesn't matter that I don't want to go to court, I would give up child support if I could just get full physical placement and custody of my child, but the state will not allow that. I have no control of my life or my child's life and no one has the best interest of my child in mind more than myself but since I am a single female and cannot monetarily support my child I am screwed by a Christian government that believes that a father is important and necessary in a child's life regardless of that father's character or reliability!!! I am FURIOUS!
posted by Megan on 07/22/2008 08:59 AM

Dont worry, he is showing his inability to be a father by not being around during your pregnancy. Does he go to doctor appts? Has he purchased anything the baby needs? Has he offered to drive when you are in labor? What about labor classes? These are all things any court will look into if custody becomes an issue. Yes, parental rights differ from state to state.
My story, my boyfriend would not sighn paper's to have our child adopted. He went to a couple of doc. appt.'s but by the 6 month of pregnancy we were through. I told him you mis-treated me but not MY child. So I moved 1500 miles away from California and yes its hard to deal with child support, but it is for MY son and his future.
COPY everything you send back to any agency it can take a very long time but your child is entitled to it.... your x needs to be accountable for his actions in this too.
posted by jenna on 08/15/2008 12:09 AM

I am going through the exact same thing here in Racine, WI. The guy's a jerk but now that he found out even if he signs over his Parental Rights he'll have to pay child support, he wants to fight for 50% custody. I'll be breast feeding and I'm scared to death he'll be able to take my child from me over night the first year. I retained a lawyer today that I'm told is one of the best. I realize I'll be spending a small fortune that I currently do not have, but I think it's worth it in the long run. I too have the Forward card to help with what my insurance does not cover and in WI, the case is automatically referred to Child Support to open a case file. This can be a good thing for us. By having the case at child Support before we deliver, Child Support will take care of setting up the Paternity and ensure that the father complies with the test.
-Freakin out too!
posted by Warrant Lady on 09/09/2008 09:49 AM

Megan, I want to start off by saying congrats on your new addition. I have two children now with different dads. My ex, the father of my first one forced me to take him to court for custody 3 yrs ago. We always came up to an agreement on everything until he got a new girlfriend. She stated taking control of everything which I think is wrong. He decided to keep her for an extra day that it took me calling his mom to get her back. Then a few months later he kept her and would not bring her home at all. All meanwhile I had no custody papers. I had to take him to court to have the judge award me primary custody. The biggest advice I can tell anyone that is not with the father of their child is get court signed custody papers. Get a lawer. I could not go through this without one as I have no idea what to say to the judge that would make things go my way.
I have a cousin that does not have a lawer and basically she has only one day a week with her son completly to herself. All other days her ex has visitation rights. This all because she did fight for herself and had no lawer to do it for her. I am gratful my lawer. As he fights for me when it comes to this stuff and does not put up with crap from my ex and his lawer. So for you and your childs sake get a lawer and have papers drawn up. It is better then not putting him on the birth certificate and him coming around later to take your child.
posted by Becky on 09/12/2008 10:31 AM

I was told by a social worker: if the father's name is not on the birth certificate then he has no legal custody, even if he's paying child support. The only way for him to get custody is to take you to court, and that's a long stretch for him to get much custody at all if he wasn't willing to put his name on the birth certificate in the first place.
posted by Lisa on 09/22/2008 06:29 PM

I like what Kristi had to say. That makes me feel like there is hope for me and my daughter. I made that same decision to leave the father's name off the birth certificate. My family supports this, although I've gotten a lot of questions and disapprovement from people who have never been in this situation. You have to do what feels right.
posted by Chels on 09/29/2008 09:24 AM

Megan, I keep hearing you say "I have no control" which is not the case at all. There are many different ways you could work or make enough money to pay for health insurance for your child without getting state assistance. If you end up going to court to fight for custody, the assistance part is going to be something he can hold against you- even if he never pays a dime in child support. I have been trying to terminate my daughter's fathers rights so all this info is from a lawyer. My daughter's father took off when I was 5 months pregnant and I made the choice as well to move in with my parents so I could stay home with her. It's a very short time in my life that she is young and giving up your independence is a great unselfish start. I know you'll be a great mom! I work from home as a consultant for The Body Shop at Home and am also becoming a certified doula. There are many different options for you and your child. Get ahold of me if you'd like more info or need to talk- I know exactly where you're coming from! It's hard not to worry but the best thing you can do is focus on how lucky you are day-to-day to be having this baby. That is the greatest gift you can give your child.
posted by Abbey on 10/07/2008 01:43 PM

I'm not sure if it's the same as Michigan but eventhough my son'e father has never seen him or anything since i got assistance he has to pay child support and he has to have joint legal custody or I have to be married for 6-12 months and my husband has to take custody.
posted by Jaiden's Mommy on 11/04/2008 04:11 PM

I just want to say that I know that it is different in every state ans every judge is different. My daughter he insurance throught the state of california and the judge in my custody case does not care one bit. I also use to get assistance with childcare from the state and he didnt' care about that all. The only thing that it effect was my ex having to give me money for health insurance and childcare. I dontk now how much it is for other people but for me to add just one child on my health plan through work it will cost me another $250.00 per month. I sure cannot afford that even if my ex were to pay for half of it. So even if it effects one person in their custody case does not mean that it will effect you. My ex still has to pay child support and now half of the child care while she is in my care and all of it when she is with him for 6 week days a month. It all depends on the judge and state laws.
posted by Becky on 11/04/2008 10:32 PM

Custody for unmarried couples from what I gather is actually more simple than if you were married. I'm about to go through this battle with my 10 month old. It seems that if you can establish that you're the sole provider for your child, it should be easier to gain full custody (you call the shots on visitation). I'm working with the child support battle first and then I will tackle the sole custody issue. A good majority of attorneys will let you meet with them for a consultation free of charge. That will be my next step.
posted by Erica on 11/10/2008 01:46 PM

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