Fathers in Indiana have parental rights regardless of whether they’re married to their child’s mother. To exclude a biological father from custody or visitation of his child, a mother would have to prove that the father is unfit in some way.
The best interests of the child
In family court, child custody decisions focus on the best interests of the child. Unless there is strong evidence to indicate otherwise, courts assume that the best interests of the child are to maintain a relationship with both parents. If a mother is trying to keep a father out of his child’s life, the father may petition the court for visitation or shared custody.
The first step a father must take to pursue custody or visitation of his child is to establish paternity. If he was not married to the mother when his child was born, the father may already have a document called an acknowledgment of paternity. If the mother has not yet signed this document, the father may request that she does. In cases where the mother is unwilling to acknowledge paternity, the father may have to request a court-ordered DNA test.
Negotiating a parenting plan
After establishing paternity, both parents may be able to reach an agreement on a custody or visitation schedule. A parenting plan should also include agreements about key decision-making issues such as the child’s health care and education. If the parents reach an agreement about a parenting plan, the plan may be filed in court so that it becomes enforceable.
When negotiations don’t work
Drafting a parenting plan outside of court requires a lot of communication and compromise between both parents. This scenario is not always realistic, especially in child custody cases where the mother was unwilling to acknowledge paternity and fathers’ rights. If a father cannot reach a custody agreement with his child’s mother, he may petition the court for visitation or custody.