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Custody tips for parents who chose not to marry

The idea of the family unit has changed. Along with same-sex unions, not all parents of the opposite sex marry choose to marry. Moreover, the court no longer appears to have a gender bias when entering parenting time orders or granting decision making. Family law has adjusted to these changes over time, which means issues are not black and white but rather there are complex legal issues when it comes to determining parenting time and decision making based upon the best interests of the children. The key is to educate yourself and plan ahead so that unnecessary disputes do not arise at a later date.

Issues to consider

Below are some helpful tips from a longer list for those unmarried parents who wish to co-parent with joint decision making and an equal parenting time schedule:

  • Put both parents on the birth certificate: This ensures that both biological parents are the legal parents with the accompanying rights and responsibilities involving parenting time,child support, legal responsibilities and decision making, and inheritance.
  • Establish paternity: The biological father may be unaware of the child until after the child’s birth. A father will need to establish paternity to safeguard parental rights. This can be done using a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form or through court action where the judge requires a paternity test before ruling.
  • Establish decision-making rights:One of the crucial aspects of a case involving minor children is the allocation of decision making to one parent or to both parents jointly. This enables the parent to have a say in critical areas of the child’s life, such as health, education, activities, living arrangements, and religion. If one parent has sole decision making rights, it can be very difficult to modify the court orders to include both parents.
  • Choose a name to your liking: Parents can put any name on a child’s birth certificate, but consider one that can be a statement about the family unity.
  • Claiming children on tax forms: Only one parent can claim the child for tax purposes, so plan accordingly with your co-parent.
  • Child support: Unmarried parents may be entitled to child support payments by the other parent, but paternity must be established. If you believe you are a parent of a child, do not wait months or years. Courts have award tens of thousands of dollars in back child support when paternity is established later in childhood. At that time, it may be too late to establish a strong relationship with the child.
  • Draft a Parenting Plan: While unwed parents forgo some of the complexities of the divorce process, there is still a legal process that can outline the rights and obligations of both parents. This document is commonly referred to as a Parenting Plan and will outline the parenting time schedule, holidays, vacation, phone contact, decision making authority, child support, and much more. If you delay in the development of a court ordered Parenting Plan, you may find yourself dealing with a court in a far away state (or country) where the child and the other parent have been living for several years. Being proactive can save time, money and heartache.

Work with an attorney

Attorneys here in Colorado understand the state laws regarding unwed parents and their legal rights. These legal professionals can even help parents with the most complex issues, working together to create a fair and equitable agreement that is in the best interests of the child while considering a parent’s needs.

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