Teen mothers already have a difficult road ahead: raising a child is demanding in and of itself, but trying to juggle school, work, and a normal social life with a baby is exhausting. On top of that, teen mothers have the added threat of facing the baby’s father or his parents, who may try to fight for custody. Some teen moms may even find themselves in a custody battle with their own parents. Being a minor does not strip you of your parental rights, however, and you have guaranteed rights regarding the custody and care of your child, regardless of how old you may be. It is worth noting that every state has its own child custody and support laws, so the laws governing your particular situation may differ. Review your state family laws for more specific information regarding teen mother custody laws.
Child Custody and the Father
If you are not married to the father of your child, most states grant custody of the child to the mother by default. If the father does not seek custody of the baby immediately after birth, you have a stronger case to retain custody--most courts will not displace a child simply because the father later decides he wants custody. However, the court may grant custody to the father if you decide to voluntarily terminate your parental rights, place the child up for adoption, or if the court deems you an unfit parent. Note that your age alone is not sufficient for determining whether you are an unfit mother.
Child Custody and Your Parents
If you live with your parents at any time after the birth of your child, there are certain circumstances where your parents may be able to apply for custody. If you leave your child with your parents for an extended period of time and stop participating in your child’s daily care, your parents may be able to seek custody. If you are deemed an unfit mother, and the child’s father is disinterested in seeking custody, many states look to the grandparents next. It is important to note that the father’s rights outweigh those of your parents (or any other interested party, you excluded), so if the father wants custody of the child, he has an exclusive first right over your parents to secure it.
As a single mother with sole physical custody, you have a right to request child support from the baby’s father. You can apply for a Child Support Order through your county family court. If the father disputes paternity, he will be ordered to take a paternity test to establish that he is the father before you can begin collecting support.
The baby’s father is entitled to child visitation if he so desires. If you choose not to voluntarily allow visitation, he may seek a court order for visitation. If this happens, you are required by law to allow the father to visit with the baby in accordance with the schedule.
If you choose to place your child up for adoption, you must notify the father first. The child’s father has the right to take custody of your child if he so chooses. If the father does not agree to place the child up for adoption, then you cannot do so. If the father does agree, then you will need his signature on the adoption papers before the adoption can occur.