First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage. This sequence of events was once the “norm” in our society, and many continue to follow the traditional route. A growing number of couples, however, choose (or end up with) children before marriage. If these unwed couples break up, they face the same custody and visitation issues faced by married couples.
What are the rights of unwed parents when it comes to their children? Well, they have the same rights and obligations as their married or once-married counterparts. In fact, the existence of a valid marriage has no significant bearing on the court’s decision regarding custody and visitation. Further, child support issues are wholly unrelated to the parents’ relationship or marital status. Both parents have the legal obligation to support their child, regardless of whether they were once married to each other.
When the identity of the father is unclear, a paternity action may be commenced. In a paternity action, the biological father’s rights and obligations regarding custody, visitation, and child support are determined, along with his status as the biological father. A biological father may also establish paternity by executing a voluntary declaration of paternity at the time of the child’s birth. This declaration is witnessed by hospital staff, and is valid in a court of law. Once a declaration of paternity is issued, the court presumes the man to be the child’s father.
If you are an unwed father facing separation from your partner, don’t hesitate to seek legal advice. The right family law professionals can help you get the custody and visitation terms you desire; they can also negotiate a fair level of child support. Children born out of wedlock pose a unique legal challenge, but this challenge can be overcome with knowledge and support. If you are the mother of a child and the father is hesitant to stand up and acknowledge paternity, seek out legal assistance because you can also initiate a paternity action and seek to have this man determined to be the father of your child, because once that happens your entitlement to receive financial assistance (support) from this man become realized. Remember, however, that the father has more than simply the right to pay child support, he also has the right to custody and access (visitation) with this child.