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Visitation rights for unmarried fathers in Massachusetts

Massachusetts couples going through a divorce often place top priority on child custody and parenting schedules. Visitation and parenting time are always going to be important issues in any child custody dispute. How are parental rights affected, though, when the parents are involved in a child custody battle but were never married?

Generally, an unmarried mother has more parental rights than an unmarried father. Except in extreme cases when a mother has been proved unfit or has abandoned a child, she, by default, has the primary right to child custody. In most cases, the father is recognized as a legal parent only when he has petitioned successfully for custodial rights and/or if his name appears on the birth certificate.

This typically means that, in the eyes of the legal system, the mother has the sole right to make decisions regarding the child's medical care and education. It also means that, unless other legal arrangements have been made, it is the mother's choice if and when visitation will occur, even with the child's father and even in cases where the father is paying child support. Even after establishing paternity through DNA testing, an unmarried father is not automatically granted visitation rights.

Unmarried fathers may be required to fight for visitation rights or parenting time. If a Massachusetts father wants to be a more active participant in his child's life, a family law attorney may be able to help. A lawyer with experience in child custody disputes will be able to fight for a father's rights to spend time with his child and/or modify already existing child custody agreements.

Source:, "What are some facts about an unmarried mother's child custody rights?", Accessed on Jan. 20, 2017

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