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Unmarried parents: The dilemma of child custody

Separating from a romantic partner is usually more difficult if there are children involved - even if the parents are not married. If you were going through a separation from a partner in a common-law relationship, sorting out child custody and parenting or visitation issues would likely be as traumatizing as it is in most divorces. You and your soon-to-be ex-partner may follow many others in similar circumstances and negotiate your own child custody agreement. This can avoid the bitterness and emotional stress of settling these issues in a court.

When unmarried parents separate, it may be financially beneficial for both parties to avoid litigation. However, if your separation is not amicable or if one of you wants sole custody, this option will not be suitable. There might also be the matter of paternity that may have to be established before an unmarried father can claim custody.

Out-of-court option

The courts in Wisconsin typically encourage parents - married and unmarried - to reach custody agreements on their own or with the help of a qualified family law mediator. You and your partner may be calling it quits because you struggle to communicate and agree on anything and negotiating with him or her may seem to be futile. However, the other option may be even less attractive because you will have to accept orders issued by a judge.

Even if your separation is highly contentious, skilled professionals can help you and your partner to focus on the best interests of the child rather than your own emotions. An experienced mediator can provide a platform for negotiations and encourage communication -- and compromise when it could lead to agreement. A mediator may only facilitate negotiations and may not provide legal advice. For that reason, you and your child's other parent may have your respective legal counsels present - not only to protect your rights but also to provide valuable input.

In-court procedures

If negotiation is not an option in your circumstances, you will have to fight for your child custody rights in the court. The family law judge will consider the factors prescribed by Wisconsin laws. While recognizing the benefits of both parents maintaining loving relationships with their children, the judge will focus on what will be best for the child. In most cases, the court will award one parent with primary child custody, and visitation rights to the other - especially if the child is an infant.

One aspect that will play a significant role in the court's decision is the fitness of you and your ex-partner as parents. The physical and mental health of both will be evaluated, along with any history of substance abuse or domestic violence. In some cases, the judge may consider the opinion of a child who is old enough in the eyes of the court.

Support and Guidance

Regardless of the option that suits your circumstances, the support and guidance of an experienced family law attorney may clear obstacles in your way. Following mediation, a lawyer can scrutinize the final agreement, and even though this is not a divorce, he or she can arrange to have the agreement formalized by the court - should any future contention arise. If you choose litigation, a seasoned family law attorney can provide that same support by advocating for you with a goal of achieving what is best for you and your children.

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