If a couple has been residing together for a while and have children, issues may arise once they decide to split regarding visitation. Although the parents have not been married, they may nonetheless share a meaningful bond with their children together as a family. Therefore, it is crucial for them to continue seeing their children as parents even after they separate. Doing this in a constructive way may be a great challenge.
For example, determining how often and under what conditions does the noncustodial parent spend time with the child. Also, other issues such as child support and child custody, you will have the option to submit your dispute to the court system.
What are the Rights of Unmarried Parents Who Are Both Legal Parents?
If both of you are legal parents of the child, meaning you fall into one of the categories described below:
- You are both biological parents;
- You have jointly adopted your child and;
- The non-biological parent has been able to obtain a legally valid stepparent or second-parent adoption.
Generally, the child-related disputes will be handled in the similar manner as a divorcing married couple. But, you may be required to attend mediation sessions or submit to an investigative process with county personnel. After a social worker conducts a report about each of your parenting abilities and home situations, the local family court judge will have the discretion to make child custody and visitation decisions.
The legal standard the judge adheres to is the “best interests of the child.” In most states you can propose your own custody and visitation arrangements. If the judge determines these to be fair and especially if you both agree to follow them, the court will most likely approve your proposal. But if the judge does not agree with your proposal, the judge has the discretion to substitute or modify for a different arrangement.
As custody, you and your former partner can make visitation arrangements voluntarily. However, if your efforts are blocked by the actions of the other parent or someone else with physical custody of the child will have to file a court action and request that a judge order visitation. In every state, both legal parents are required by law to support their children, regardless of whether they were married when the child was born.
When it comes to supporting a child financially, if parental incomes are unequal or if one parent is the prime financial provider, the family law court will order the noncustodial parent to contribute a specified sum of money to the costs of child maintenance, often by referring to published guidelines establishing minimum levels of support. The family law court will retain the right to modify this amount if there is a drastic change in the parent’s incomes or the needs of the children shift.
The amount of child support awarded will vary on how much each parent makes and spends on housing, health care, and other necessary child-related expenses, including dental bills and private school tuition. This monthly amount will differ with each state having its own child support guidelines that are generally set by statute. Keep in mind that you should try to familiarize yourself with the local state regulations or consult with a local attorney about the court’s procedures in your state.
If for some reason the child support is not being paid voluntarily, the parent with custody or someone acting on the child’s behalf can file a claim towards the noncustodial parent. The court will review the case and set a court order on the amount of child support the noncustodial parent must pay. If the father does not pay, but has the ability to do so, there will be civil and criminal penalties attached with fees for those who do not comply.
What are the Parenting Agreements for Children of Unmarried Couples?
Because unmarried couples do not get divorces, judges and lawyers are not heavily involved in the child-raising issues. Unmarried couples can make their own parenting agreements covering child support, custody, and visitation issues, either on their own or with the help of a mediator or family law counselor. If it is feasible, this is the best approach.
It is recommended to approach your agreement with a spirit of flexibility and openness. Additionally, no custody, support, or visitation agreement is permanently binding. An amount of child support that seems fair and adequate today may not be enough tomorrow due to extringent circumstances. Custody with one parent may be the best option now for the child but after a year it may not be. Your agreement has to be a statement of needs and expectations that has a solid foundation for the changes and additions expected in the future.
Here are examples of two parenting agreements you can use as models to write your own:
- Parenting Agreement (Both Parents Are Legal Parents), and
- Parenting Agreement (Only One Parent Is a Legal Parent).
It is crucial you both date and sign any agreement reached and each keep a copy for your records. Furthermore, you can even have a signed agreement notarized if you anticipate any future need (in court or arbitration) to prove that the signatures on the agreement are not forged. However, when a cohabiting or co-parenting couple part ways, they do not necessarily need a court intervention unless needed so. When unmarried parents break up, they usually formulate their own informal arrangements for how child custody will function in their situation without bringing the legal system into it.
But the issue arises when one parent fails to meet their end of the informal agreement, the other parent has no way to enforce it. For instance, if a divorced parent wants to move away with their child, their legal custody arrangement may require them to get permission from the court. Moreover, they need to make a formal plan to ensure that the child continues to have a relationship with the parent who is left behind. In some cases, one parent may prevent the other from moving with the child or be awarded custody themselves.
Unmarried parents who do not have a court order may not have any legal recourse, and if the parent who resides with the child leaves the state, it can get complicated for the other parent to go to court to establish their parental rights. Therefore, it is suggested for unmarried parents who are breaking up to go to family court to establish a formal custody arrangement immediately to avoid these issues in the future . That way this protects both parents, and more importantly, it protects the child from losing out on their relationship with either parent.
When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?
If you are not married but have children together, it may be useful to formulate an agreement of custody and visitation issues that may arise later. This is especially true if you are thinking about splitting with your spouse. It may be necessary to consult with a child visitation lawyer in your area to devise an agreement on how to move forward.