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Who Gets Custody of Children Born our of Wedlock?

I live with the father of my two year-old son, but we never had a paternity test done. Now I think our relationship is ending, and I'm wondering who will get custody of our boy? -- Anonymous
When a couple has never been married, Massachusetts law presumes that the mother will retain custody of the child. However, that presumption does not ensure permanent custody of the child, because custody is subject to review and change.  Custody for children when the parents are not married is determined with reference to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 209C. If the paternity of the father has not been been established through acknowledgment, birth certificate, or paternity test, then he has no standing or ability to claim any form of custody and the mother is presumed to have sole legal and physical custody.  In cases where paternity is established or acknowledged, custody and visitation will be determined through a Complaint for Custody, Visitation and Support. So, if your partner establishes his paternity, he can then go to court to request visitation or even full custody. He can establish his paternity by filing a paternity case in court or by signing—with you—a "voluntary acknowledgment form."
Except in cases of abuse, it is probably not a good idea to simply take the child and move out, because that action may cause or increase tension and hostility in your relationship and may also create sympathy for the father in any future custody action. The better approach would be to establish paternity and then work out the custody and visitation issues, in court if you and your partner cannot agree to terms. This area of the law is governed by Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 209C. For an easily understood summary of the law, along with helpful hints and forms, go to MassLegalHelp's Website at (Submitted by the Editor)

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