To most people, conversations about child custody involve divorce. Married couples will usually need to reach an agreement about how they split parenting time and decision-making authority or go to court to create a custody order.
However, you do not need to marry the mother of your children to have an interest in their future or a right to spend time with them. New York does extend the same theoretical rights to parents regardless of their marital status.
Of course, you do need to be the legal parent of the child to make use of those rights. You will need to establish paternity if you want to ask for shared custody or visitation.
You may have already established paternity
If you were present at the birth of your children and had your name added to their birth certificates, you have already taken the necessary steps to establish paternity in New York. If you did not fill out paperwork with the mother at the hospital right before or after the birth or cooperate later to add your name to the birth certificate, then that is the step you need to take now if possible.
The mother of your child may agree to cooperate with you and acknowledge you as the father because she will receive respite when you have parenting time and also potentially child support. If she does not cooperate, then you may need to go to court.
New York can confirm your paternity with genetic testing
If the mother of your children won't cooperate with you voluntarily, the courts can order genetic testing on your behalf. The results of those tests can show, with a small margin of error, whether you are the father. Such testing will then lead to official status as the father and all of the rights and responsibilities that come with fatherhood.
The law regarding shared custody in New York does not make specific mention of your sex. Both you and the mom should have the same basic rights when it comes to time with the children and decision-making authority, although a judge may grant more parenting time and responsibility to one parent than the other based on the current family circumstances.
Understanding how to make use of your child custody rights will help protect you as an unmarried father in New York.