In today’s evolving world, many families are not what was once called “traditional families.” According to Pew Research, 1 in 4 parents with a child in their home are unmarried; however, 35% of unmarried parents live with a partner, sometimes the child’s biological parent, but not always. Not all parents wish to get married. Some choose to raise their children together and live as a family without the legal bounds of marriage, and others don’t live together at all or even have a relationship. There are many types of non-traditional families, and the vast majority of parents—married or unmarried—only want what’s best for their children, but sometimes legal issues arise when parents are not legally married to each other. What challenges should non-married parents anticipate, and how should they handle these common issues when they arise?
When an unmarried mother gives birth, she has sole legal and physical custody of the child. The biological father of the child has no legal rights or obligations unless or until he establishes paternity. Putting the father’s name on the birth certificate isn’t enough if the parents are not married at the time of the birth since most states do not presume paternity. Without establishing paternity, a father has no rights to custody and is under no obligation to provide support. For a father who wishes to establish paternity in order to share custody or parenting time, the easiest way is to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP). Both parents must sign this acknowledgment for it to have legal standing. This form may also add the father’s name to the child’s birth certificate.
For a mother seeking child support or a father seeking parenting time with a child whose mother won’t sign an AOP, an administrative order for paternity testing can legally establish paternity and the father’s rights. After establishing paternity the court decides on issues of child support and parenting time the same way they would for divorced parents. A biological father with established paternity can ask a judge for a temporary order to allow visitation or parenting time until the custody hearing and final orders take place.
Choosing a Child’s Last Name
For a child of unmarried parents, a last name sometimes presents challenges. For unmarried parents in a relationship and raising their child together, the decision on the child’s last name is one they can navigate together. When a child shares a last name with both parents it makes it easier for many issues, including making emergency medical decisions and picking up a child from daycare or school. However, sharing a last name isn’t usually an option for non-married parents who co-parent but are not in a relationship. Instead, some parents choose to hyphenate both last names or to give the child one parent’s last name as a middle name and the other’s as a last name.
Non-Married Parents and Taxes
When parents aren’t married, only one parent may claim the children as dependents on their tax forms. Typically, the parent with the higher amount of parenting time claims the children on their taxes, but for parents with equal or nearly equal parenting time, deciding which parent claims the children may be a problem. Some solutions are to alternate years so each parent claims the children every other year, or for the higher-earning parent to claim the children every year for the bigger tax break with both parents agreeing to split the tax return even though it’s only in one parent’s name.
An experienced family attorney in Fort Collins can help resolve legal issues such as establishing paternity and gaining parenting time or child support orders between non-married parents raising children together as a family or sharing custody of their biological children.