WomensLaw.org receives hundreds of emails to the Email Hotline every year asking about what a father's custody rights are if the mother and father are not married.
Whether the father has custody rights already or whether he would have to go to court to file for custody rights depends on whether his paternity has been established. Establishing paternity is when a biological father does something to legally declare himself the father. A mother's custody rights are automatically established at birth but a father has to do something to declare his custody rights if you are not married. Was the father there at the hospital during delivery? Did he ever sign the birth certificate or any other papers at the hospital? Is he paying child support through the state? If so, you may have already acknowledged that he is the father. If not, he may have to go to court to file a petition to establish his paternity. The specific laws for this are different in each state which is why is can be extremely helpful to talk to a lawyer who specializes in custody to find out if his paternity has been established and, if so, what your rights are under your state's law. You can find lawyers in your state on Finding a Lawyer pages of WomensLaw.org.
Even if his paternity was established, if you disagree with giving him the visitation he wants, you may want to make him file for visitation in court. However, sometimes this could backfire because he may end up with more visitation than you want him to have (or even shared custody). Therefore, it is sometimes better to try to work something out regarding visitation rather than leaving it up to a judge. Talking to a lawyer about what type of visitation you want him to have and what he may realistically end up with if you leave it up to a judge may help you decide whether you want to go forward with a court case or whether you want to work out something informal with him.
Once his paternity is established, it may allow him to have visitation or custody rights to the child but it could also allow you to go to court to get child support from him.
If you need more information about your specific situation please write to the Email Hotline.