How is custody determined between parents who are not married? Know your responsibilities and rights.
Having a child or children between unmarried couples is increasingly popular. But, if one or both of you suddenly called it “quits,” a custody agreement must be negotiated. The court will need to establish custody decisions if there’s a disagreement between the involved parties. Similar to other custody battles, the judge will also base the custody decision he made on the best interests of the child.
When we say parental responsibilities, it is a responsibility to care, act as a guardian, maintain contact, and contribute to the overall maintenance of a child. A guardian or parent should:
- Nurture, love, and show affection to the child
- Administer and protect the property as well as property interests of the child
- Provide for the physical, emotional, and financial needs of a child
- Access the personal records and other information of the child
- Represent or assist the child in any legal matters (g., contractual or administrative)
- Decline or give permission to the encumbrance or estrangement of the child’s fixed property
- Refuse or give a consent required by law with regard to the child, (g., consent to be adopted, apply for a passport, or to be removed or leave the country)
The Rights of a Mother
Unmarried mothers are generally given the primary right to custody of their child. Meaning to say, they have full authority to make minor and major decisions with regard to their child’s welfare, including child care, home residence, school, health needs, travel and vacations, and extracurricular activities like summer camps and sports.
The Rights of a Father
A father who wants to have significant decision making role in the life of his child will be able to work out visitation or shared custody with the mother of the child.
In order to acknowledge yourself as the biological father of your child and have access to various benefits, including your health benefits, you need to establish paternity.
This is mostly done by both parents signing he birth certificate in the town or city clerk’s office or in the hospital where the child is born. A DNA testing may be required or requested by either parent.
Once a father proves paternity, he then needs to show to the court that he is an ideal parent and is able to take on custodial rights. A father is not granted immediate custodial and visitation rights until he goes to court to establish them. However, this does not mean he is not entitled to them prior to doing so but can be complicated if the mother of the child proves difficult when attempting visitation.
Unmarried fathers looking to legally establish their rights as a father should immediately seek the aid of a family law attorney to ensure his rights are protected.
Although unmarried, both parents are required by the law to support their child or children financially. The court will assess the contributions of each parent depending on their responsibilities and incomes, as well as the child’s needs to determine if one parent must financially contribute by means of child support payments.
In case one parent faces financial trouble, such as a job loss or a decrease in salary, he or she can have support reassessed on the basis of the change in circumstances. In most situations, the other parent with whom the child does not spend the majority of his or her time living will be required to pay support.
Legal actions can be pursued if you believe you are owed child support from the other parent of your child.
Time Sharing or Visitation
Just like custody, both you and your ex-partner can establish a visitation or time-sharing arrangement voluntarily.
Because the mother is assumed to have legal custody immediately upon birth, a father can file a court action and petition a visitation should the mother be unresponsive to a voluntary agreement. As with any decision regard a child, the courts consider various factors before making a final decision, including:
- Child’s developmental stage and age
- The personal needs of a child
- History of the relationship between legal parents
- The work schedule of each parent
- Parent’s problems like child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, or criminal record
As soon as the non-marital relationship of a couple ends and minor child/children, they will deal with similar issues as parents who petition for divorce – only initiating the process themselves is required since there is no divorce proceeding to address these issues. Just as married parents do, unmarried parents also have similar legal obligations and rights about custody, child support, and time-sharing or visitation.