If you are or believe you are the father of a child in Montana, Montana law gives you specific rights as a parent, even if you were never married to the mother. Historically, a man was considered to be a child's father if he was married to the child's mother at or shortly before the time of birth. The recent increase in nonmarital births has forced lawmakers to acknowledge that the biological link between a putative father and a child is a substantial relationship.
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When a child is born into a marriage, the husband is legally presumed to be the child's father. If you weren't married to the mother but agree to have your name on the birth certificate, acknowledge your paternity in writing, or support the child as your own, you are considered the child's "putative father." Montana is one of the states that have putative father registries, allowing fathers to claim paternity.
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Custody and visitation in Montana is referred to as parenting time. Parents are required to provide the court with a parenting plan, outlining the custody agreement and the detailed visitation schedule. The judge will then approve or revise the parenting plan, taking into consideration the parents' wishes, the child's feelings, family relationships, the child's adjustment, the physical and emotional needs of everyone involved, the developmental needs of the child, and whether there is any history of drug abuse or domestic violence.
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When a child is born to an unmarried mother, the mother is automatically awarded custody. Even if you have established paternity, the mother still has custody unless you legally file for custody. As the putative father, you have the same right to seek visitation or custody as a divorced parent, but you bear the burden of proving that you are the better choice to be custodial parent. You should be aware that if either parent knowingly fails to support the child, the court considers that to be not in the best interests of the child, and that will be a consideration in the custody decision.