If you and your partner are raising children together, you both are considered the parents. Generally, you can have the opportunity to work out a joint agreement without court intervention. But if you do end up in court, the issues of custody, visitation, and child support will be handled similarly to those as married couples. If only one of you is the legal parent, the majority of the states do not recognize non-legal parent rights. 

Therefore, even though your partner may be parenting your child with you they may not have any right to future custody or visitation of the child, and will have no duty to support the child. 

What is the Difference Between Domestic Partnership and Same-Sex Couples?

Civil unions and domestic partnerships benefit from many of the same rights as a marriage, depending on which state you live in. The following are some of the benefits that may be available to domestic partners which may include:

  • Medical, health, dental, vision, and life insurance; 
  • Sick leave;
  • Housing rights; 
  • The use of recreational facilities. Public employers such as local and state agencies, as well as private companies and non-profit organizations may offer these benefits.
  • An employer may require that the couple have lived together for a certain minimum period, but other times the couple does not need to have lived together at all. 
  • Financial responsibility is another factor that an employer may evaluate, such as whether each member of the partnership shares the other’s expenses.

Furthermore, if you have lived with someone without marrying them or establishing a domestic partnership, you typically cannot gain access to the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Unmarried couples will not be able to benefit from all the rights and legal obligations that attach through a marriage. 

When a couple terminates their domestic partnership, neither person will be entitled to spousal support unless a court discovers that an implied contract existed between them. This is a minority view held in the California courts and it is not yet widely established. Additionally, neither person in the relationship can inherit the other person’s property when he or she dies, and neither person will be liable for the debts of the other unless he or she agrees to hold them.

Moreover, the property division procedures after divorce will not apply when unmarried couples separate. Generally this means that you may need to draft up legal contracts to come to an agreement about any property division. This entails that you may want to consider making an agreement with your partner to protect your property rights. If you have a legally valid contract, it will be enforced by a court even though it is not part of a formal divorce proceeding.

Furthermore, an unmarried couple are considered the legal parents of any children whom they have together. Listing the names of both parents on a child’s birth certificate will achieve this goal too. However, an unmarried father may need to sign a certificate acknowledging his paternity for child support and visitation purposes. The child may qualify for government benefits, and he or she can choose the last name of either parent. If for some reason the relationship terminates, each parent will have an equal right to visitation with the child and can make important decisions concerning the child. However, a court can rule against one parent over the other parent. 

Another option to ensure the child stays with the unmarried couple is adoption. They can either choose to adopt together or the partner adopts. Unmarried couples tend to face more challenges from the adoption agencies than the married couples. Some adoption agencies may utilize the best interests standard for the child and determine that a married life is better for the child to grow up rather than an unmarried life. If one of the partners has biological children from a previous marriage, the other partner may choose to adopt those children as his or her own. 

What Are the Child Support Obligations for Unmarried Parents? 

The non-custodial parents, regardless of their marital status, are required by law to pay child support to their custodial parent counterparts until their minor children reach age 18. If, at age 18, the child is an unmarried, full-time high school student, then the child support responsibility continues until the minor child turns 19 or completes their senior year of high school, whichever event occurs first. 

There are similarities between a partnership in common law and married couples. But as stated earlier, unmarried couples do not benefit from core legal protections saved for married spouses. Generally, divorce laws do not apply to such relationships, even when children are born into the relationship.

What are Some Disadvantages of Being Unmarried Parents? 

The implications of not having these legal protections of being married are immense. For example,  it is not guaranteed that a mother who provided childcare for her infant from birth will have visitation rights for that child after separation from the child’s father. Furthermore, the issue of paternity is no longer assumed outside of marriage. 

Even when a man is named on a child’s birth certificate as the father, a presumption of his paternity does not exist when the mother and father are not married to one another. This can create issues for the child and can cause mental trauma if the child is not able to identify his or her own family. 

When an unmarried mother seeks to obtain child support, she is required to first establish paternity. The child’s father can comply voluntarily, or the mother may file suit to establish paternity through DNA or genetic testing. However, in some involuntary cases, the court will order the father to submit to genetic testing and if paternity is established, the court will enter a child support order obligating that the father make child support payments, similar to a divorce proceeding. 

What Obstacles Do Unmarried Fathers Face?

It can be more challenging for the unmarried fathers after the separation. When unmarried parents separate from one another without first obtaining a court order in regards to child custody and support, there are certain default provisions mandated for the father’s rights and responsibilities in child custody and support matters. 

If there is no court order and no child support hearing the legal system’s default provisions dictate the following:

  • Time shared between a father and child is established at 0 percent. This default percentage is mandated regardless of whether the father spends time with the child; 
  • Federal child support guidelines for payment for 0 percent time spent are automatically higher than state counterparts. Usually, that increase is $100 to $200 more per month with no requirement that federal and state child support levels must be the same; 
  • Fathers who do not pay child support are subject to legal prosecution by their local district attorney’s office and; 
  • A mother can change any type of visitation agreement at any time, except those visitation agreements made by or subject to court order.

When Do I Need to Hire A Lawyer?

If you are not married and have children together, it may be useful to research on drafting up a legal contract that can enforce future child support and child custody issues. There is a general preference for married parents versus unmarried parents. 

Therefore, it is advisable to seek out an experienced child support lawyers if you are facing any child support issues as an unmarried couple. Parents can separate and it is important to understand the legal implications of making the decision of staying with children as an unmarried couple.