The end of a relationship can be emotionally draining regardless of whether you are married or not. This is especially true if there are children involved. An angry parent may want to take out their frustrations against their ex by withholding access to the children.
In my experience as a family law attorney, I have heard my share of stories about parents who “have plans” so that child cannot spend time with the other parent. I have also seen parents who list a host of insurmountable conditions for the other parent to fulfill before allowing access. While both of these scenarios are hurtful (both for the parent and the child), it is important for parents to understand the legal differences between married and unmarried parents, as well the implications of withholding access to children.
Essentially, married parents have joint legal and physical custody of a child born of the marriage as a matter of law. This means that they have a right to have parenting time with a child and cannot be denied access to a child unless there is a court order dictating when parenting time is supposed to occur.
Conversely, unmarried parents have different rights altogether. Unmarried mothers have sole legal and physical custody of a child born outside of marriage. This means that they can determine who does and does not spend time with the child. This also means that an unmarried father must petition the court to obtain custody and parenting time of his child, even if he has held himself out to be the father.
If you have additional questions about custody and parenting time, an experienced family law attorney can help.