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Determining custody for unmarried parents

When a child is born out of wedlock in Mississippi, the mother automatically has full legal and physical custody rights. The biological father can seek a court order for joint or sole custody if he chooses. 

If the court establishes paternity, a single father is equal in status to a divorced father. He could win custody rights of the child if he qualifies under the court’s determining factors. 

Determining factors 

For both divorced and unmarried parents, the court reviews certain factors when determining custody. The court uses these considerations to award custody in the child’s best interests. FindLaw provides a list of factors considered when awarding custody. Essential elements include, but are not limited to: 

  • The child’s age, health and sex 
  • parent and child’s emotional connection 
  • a parent’s willingness, skill and ability to provide primary care for the child, including employment, age, overall health, moral fitness and the level of care before seeking custody 
  • the child’s environment, including the stability of each parent’s home and the child’s school and community involvement 
  • Any further factors the court finds relevant to the child’s relationship with the parent 
  • The child’s preference, if he or she is old enough 

Non-parental custodians  

If the court finds neither parent suitable for physical and legal custody, the Mississippi Legislature notes that the courts may award full custody to someone else. Relatives such as grandparents, aunts or uncles are often considered candidates for custody. Additionally, the court may consider awarding custody to someone who is not related if they have previously provided the child with a stable, healthy environment. 


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