Unmarried Parents and Child Custody

Court Proceedings for Unmarried Parents

Unmarried parents who are no longer together usually have custody issues to work out and the only way to legally protect your parental rights is to bring the matter before the court.

Generally, unmarried parents will have similar custody proceedings that divorcing parents have except they will not be dealing with the division of property, alimony, etc.

If you are unmarried, the main focus of your court proceedings will be determining the custody arrangements and support of your child.

This doesn't mean it is going to be easy. For many divorcing couples, child custody is the most difficult facet of their divorce. Unmarried couples face the same challenges and may even have a few additional details to be concerned with.

Family laws pertaining to unmarried parents and child custody differ from state to state. Some states consider an unmarried mother to be the sole custodian of her child until paternity is established and the matter has been brought to court.

You will want to familiarize yourself with the laws of your state when you are involved in a custody situation so you are prepared and aware of your rights.

Establishing Paternity

Paternity may become an issue in some child custody cases for various reasons:

  • Fathers may not acknowledge the child is theirs
  • Fathers may not know the child is theirs
  • Fathers may have doubts and want to be certain the child is theirs
  • Mothers may be unsure who the father of their child is
  • Mothers may want to prove to the father that the child is theirs

If the paternity of the child is in question, the mother or the assumed father may petition the court to order a paternity test so everyone knows for sure.

A DNA test isn't necessary if the parents agree on the paternity of the child. The father can sign documentation that he agrees and acknowledges that he is the child's father.

Once paternity is established, the parents can focus on dividing the responsibility of raising their child.

Custody X Change is a software tool to help parents create a fair custody agreement.

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Parental rights and responsibilities of the unmarried couple

Regardless of whether or not you are married, as your child's parents you are both entitled to certain rights and expected to fulfill various parental obligations unless a court rules otherwise:

  • The right to spend time with your child and have frequent, ongoing contact with him or her
  • The right to be able to act as a parent to your child and share in your child's upbringing
  • The right to be involved in making major decisions that affect your child's life, such as your child's education and medical care
  • The right to be informed of important issues in the child's life
  • The right to access your child's personal records and other information
  • The duty to provide for your child's physical, financial, and emotional needs
  • The obligation to love, nurture, and show affection to your child
  • The duty to protect your child from harm and to look out for his or her best interests

These rights and responsibilities are not guaranteed if you do no stand up for your parental rights and protect them.

Protecting your rights with a parenting plan

The best way to make sure you have fair time with your child and to make sure your parental rights are protected is to create a solid parenting plan.

The parenting plan, or custody agreement, can be taken to court and the court will make it a court order. This makes the plan legally binding for both parties and ensures the well-being of the children. The most effective way to protect your parental rights is to fight for them.

If you are involved in a custody dispute, you should never allow someone else to make your custody arrangements for you.

You should always be an active participant in your child's custody plan. A good way to do this is to work with the other parent to create a parenting plan but you may make one on your own if the other parent refuses to work with you.

Making an all-inclusive parenting plan

A parenting plan is a document that contains all of the rules and other information that the parents will follow as they raise their child apart.

A comprehensive parenting plan should contain:

  • A basic residential schedule
  • A schedule for holidays and special events
  • Provisions for vacation time
  • A stipulation that mandates each parent shall keep the other one informed of their current address
  • Stipulations regarding moving or relocation with the child
  • A delegation of major parental responsibilities and decision making authority, such as which parent(s) will be responsible for taking the child to the doctor or choosing a school for the child
  • A method for modifying the plan should needs change in the future
  • A method for dispute resolution should future conflicts arise

You will also want to include basic rules for any issues you feel will be relevant, such as stipulations regarding:

  • The transportation of the child between exchanges
  • Third-party visitation
  • How optional expenses for the child will be handled
  • The child's belongings and whether or not they will be transported back and forth between homes
  • How to resolve problems with conflicting schedules and the child's school or extra-curricular activities
  • How to make up parenting time if a child is very sick
  • Any dietary restrictions the child may have
  • Communication between the parents
  • Communication between the child and each parent when the child is with the other parent

There really are no limitations as to what may be included in a parenting plan.

In fact, the more details you are able to include (and agree on), the better your plan will be. A carefully considered parenting plan that you both can agree on will allow you to focus on raising your child instead of on arguing with your ex about the issues that should have been covered in the plan.

Creating a parenting plan your ex will agree to

Custody X Change is child custody software that helps parents make parenting plans and custody arrangements and can also be used to help you negotiate with the other parents.

The software is easy to use. You simply install it, enter the required information, and the results are professional looking documents that are organized and easy to understand.

With Custody X Change, you can print off a custody schedule calendar as well as time share and overnight percentage reports.

Your parenting plan will contain everything you need to present to your ex, a mediator, or the court.

If you are having a hard time reaching an agreement with the other parent, you can use Custody X Change to help you because you can print of the documents and allow your ex to review them and make suggestions.

You can make changes accordingly or revise the documents to suggest a compromise.

Dealing with paperwork instead of with your ex face to face usually makes it easier to reach an agreement because it is less personal.

Once you have agreed on as many issues as you are able to, you can take your parenting plan to the mediator or judge, letting them know the items that you were able to agree on and they can review the portions of the plan that you are proposing.

Stand up for your rights and create a parenting plan that is the best for your child.

Download the free edition of Custody X Change and see how it can help you.


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