Rights of Unmarried Parents
Serving the Rights of Unmarried Parents
Unmarried parents have a unique set of challenges, both in child-raising and in separation. Questions of paternity, custody, child support, and visitation can be more complex when the parents are not married, but with the right family law attorney, you can fight for your rights and responsibilities as a parent.
If you have questions about your right as an unmarried parent, contact The Law Office of Heath L. Baker. Mr. Baker understands how to navigate the emotionally charged family court system. As a Riverside native himself, Mr. Baker can help you and your family find a solution and get through a difficult time. Call (951) 222-2228 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation today.
Rights of Unmarried Mothers
If parents are not married when the child is born, typically the mother’s name is the only one on the California birth certificate. If this is the case, the father would have to prove paternity in order to make any legal claim to the child. With this in mind, the mother is presumed to be the legal parent of the child, giving her sole physical and legal custody. The only exception to an unmarried mother receiving sole custody would be if the mother is shown to be unfit or has abandoned the child.
Mothers with legal and physical custody have the right (and responsibility) to make decisions about the child’s:
- School or child care
- Religious activities or institutions
- Psychiatric, psychological, or other mental health counseling or therapy needs
- Doctor, dentist, orthodontist, or other health care
- Sports, summer camp, vacation, or other extracurricular activities
This issue of paternity is particularly important when it comes to child support. In the eyes of the law, the unmarried mother is the only parent of the child and is responsible for the child’s well-being. However, in many cases when the father still plays an active role in the mother and child’s life, he may voluntarily pay child support by buying groceries, paying for doctor visits, or by other means. Many unmarried couples prefer this arrangement because there is no binding legal document requiring one parent to make payments to the other, or perhaps they are not interested in a formal marriage but the father of the child still wants to contribute.
While this arrangement may work for a period of time, it is important to understand the issue of enforcement. Without a court order proving paternity, the father is under no legal obligation to provide child support for any length of time. As time goes on and lives change, the father may change his mind about supporting the mother and the child—maybe the father wants to move for a new job, maybe he remarries and has another child to support, or maybe there is a falling-out between the mother and father. Whatever the reason is, unmarried fathers are well within their legal rights to stop financially supporting the mother and child whenever they choose. And unfortunately, many unmarried mothers are unaware until that very moment that they have no legal way to enforce child support.
Rights of Unmarried Fathers
An unmarried father, as mentioned above, does not have a legal claim to the child if his name is not on the birth certificate. An unmarried father must establish his paternity with the state in order to be legally recognized as a parent.
Further, if the biological mother and father are no longer together, it is important to develop a legally binding custody and visitation schedule. If there is no legal agreement in place and the father is not legally recognized, the biological mother will have the right to make all the decisions in the child’s life.
Unmarried Parents Who Live Together
If two unmarried people are living together with a child, chances are that both adults act in a parental role. However, the non-legal parent might become frustrated after realizing he or she is unable to make certain decisions that a legal parent could make, including where the child should attend school, which doctor the child should go to, and how the child should be raised. In addition, a non-legal parent faces more hoops to jump through on a daily basis, even for commonplace things like signing school forms or approving medical documents.
Essentially, an adult serving in a parental role does not have a legal claim to the child unless the parents are married or the non-legal parent adopts the child. “Second-parent adoption” is an attractive legal option for many unmarried couples, as it allows a non-biological parent to adopt his or her partner’s child. The equivalent option for married couples is called a “stepparent adoption,” and it is typically the easiest kind of adoption to obtain. (For example, John and Katie have been together for 5 years but do not want to get married at this point. Katie has a 7-year-old son from a previous relationship, who has a great relationship with John. After serving in a parental role for several years, John and Katie decide John should adopt Katie’s son so he can be part of the decision-making process going forward.)
It is important to note that second-parent adoptions must be approved by both biological parents, as long as the other biological parent maintains some sort of relationship with the child. If the non-custodial biological father has abandoned the child or is unfit to be a parent, the unmarried couple can obtain a second-parent adoption without his approval. However, if the biological parent has maintained a relationship with the child, has tried to maintain a relationship with the child (but was kept away by the other parent or someone else), or has provided support for the child over the years, he could have grounds to dispute the second-parent adoption.
Obtaining a second-parent adoption can be a complicated and lengthy process. The best way to sort through the legal challenges of a second-parent adoption is to contact an experienced family lawyer to help you through the process.
Contact the Law Office of Heath Baker
The Law Office of Heath L. Baker is dedicated to finding the best solution for you and your family. With a background in criminal investigations, Mr. Baker has years of experience investigating the facts and applying legal expertise to your family’s situation. You can count on the Law Office of Heath L. Baker to thoroughly investigate and diligently prepare your case to win.
You deserve compassionate and hardworking representation in your family law matter. If you have questions about your rights as unmarried parents, trust The Law Office of Heath L. Baker. Mr. Baker represents clients in all Riverside and San Bernardino courts, as well as select locations in San Diego and Orange County. Call (951) 222-2228 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.