The Legal Rights of Unmarried Parents
Posted on 08/20/2010
In Family Law
It’s not all accidental teenage parents — many are adults in committed relationships.
It’s important for unmarried parents to know their legal rights, as many US states have custody laws in place that depend on the marital status of the parents.
While parental rights vary from state to state, unmarried parents generally have fewer rights than married couples. Unmarried parents must often deal with the law to assert the few rights they have.
While cohabitation is commonplace, the practice of living with your partner outside of marriage is illegal in the following US states:
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- West Virginia
Several of these states also have laws that make fornication illegal, even between consenting adults. While these laws are almost never enforced, they can still have a dramatic effect on unmarried parents’ rights.
People living in these states cannot claim an unmarried partner as a dependent on their income taxes. For unmarried couples with children, this means no financial tax break for families. This can prove especially difficult when one parent stays at home to raise the children.
Sometimes a single mother or father begins raising his or her child with a partner. It’s important to remember that the partner in this situation has no parental rights toward the child unless he or she adopts the child.
To proceed with an adoption, both biological parents of the child must agree to the adoption, unless one biological parent is deceased or is proven to be an unfit parent by a court.
The adoption process can be difficult — not to mention expensive — but it’s important. In case of a separation or if the biological parent becomes ill or dies, the partner would have absolutely no legal rights to obtain custody of the child, much less see the child ever again.
Securing Rights for Unmarried Parents
Unmarried parents can begin to secure their rights as soon as the baby is born. The first step is to make sure both parents are listed on the child’s birth certificate. This establishes paternity, which can be important for child support and visitation and custodial rights in case the unmarried parents separate.
Many states also honor “parenting agreements,” which are somewhat like prenuptial agreements for raising a child. Experienced family law attorneys should know how to draw up a parenting agreement and how to make it legal.
A parenting agreement should include:
- How parents will provide for the child’s physical care
- How parents will provide emotional support
- What the individual responsibilities of each parent are
- How parents will minimize conflict
- How parents will protect the child’s best interests
Unmarried parents should take the time to learn the state laws that affect their situation. While the extra steps unmarried parents must take to assert the same rights as married couples may be time-consuming and expensive, it is important for the entire family’s welfare.