“I have been the sole provider for my child. The father’s name is not on the birth certificate, and he has not been in our lives since before the birth. I filed a paternity case, and the judge ordered him to pay support. Does this automatically give me full custody?”
You do not “automatically” receive custody of your child in any contested environment. Obviously, you are your child’s mother, and as such, you maintain custodial control over your child unless a court order states otherwise. In your case, the child was born to you, you took the child home with you and are raising it, and most importantly, no one is challenging this arrangement. As such, you have “de facto” full custody.
At some point, the father may show up and want involvement in the child’s life, and he may at that time challenge the existing arrangement. In the midst of any controversy between you and the child’s father, a court will have to determine the custody arrangement. Were you to die, as a general rule, your child would automatically go to the other biological (or adoptive) parent. On the off-chance that the child’s father disappears and no one can locate him, I would strongly recommend that you consult an estate-planning attorney and prepare a Nomination of Guardian, so that you can at least let the court know what your wishes were in this regard, should you die while your child is a minor.
Marshall Waller is a Certified Family Law Specialist with Feinberg & Waller in Calabasas, CA. He has gained a reputation as a dynamic and entertaining speaker and has spoken nationally and locally to trade, civic, and private organizations.