Unmarried Couples and Child Custody
In recent years it has become more common for couples to establish a long-term relationship without getting married. Some couples may decide to wait many years before getting married or may decide to not get married at all for personal, financial, or work-related reasons. In most states gay couples cannot get married, though they may still decide to raise a child together. Whatever the reason, unmarried couples who have a child should be aware of the legal issues surrounding child custody.
When a child is born outside of a marriage, the biological mother is the only person who is automatically granted custody and legal parental rights over a child. The other partner in the relationship is not immediately granted parental status. For straight unmarried couples, the father of the child may complete a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form to establish his status as a legal parent.
Whether the unmarried couple chooses to live together or not, the father is then granted joint custody along with the mother and has a legal responsibility to help support the child. In an unmarried relationship between two women, the partner does not automatically have custody but can apply to adopt the child to obtain joint parental rights.
It is possible for the other partner in a relationship to take on a parental role in a child’s life without establishing legal custody. If a father or partner does not wish to take steps to establish paternity or adopt the child for some reason, he or she may still take on a parental role.
However, if the couple later separates, it may be more difficult for a parent without legal status to establish custody and visitation rights. If the parent is able to show that he or she has consistently been involved in the child’s life and in caring for the child, there is a greater chance that she or he will be able to obtain legal custody and visitation rights in the future.
Legal custody and parental rights issues for unmarried couples can be more complex than those for married couples, but this does not mean that a non-biological parent is less important in a child’s life. If you are involved in an unmarried relationship and have a child, consider talking with a family lawyer about the important legal issues surrounding your relationship to ensure that your role as a parent is protected.
To learn more about establishing parental status in an unmarried relationship, please contact the Austin child custody attorneys of KennonLegal Ltd. LLP today at 512-931-3726.