What Are the Parental Rights of Unmarried Parents?
Child custody is often complicated, but when the parents are unmarried, establishing parental rights can make custody, visitation, and child support more problematic. When two people have a child out of wedlock, custody of the child is immediately awarded to the mother, though the father may pursue custody for a variety of reasons. To better understand your rights as a parent, we’ve outlined some of the general rules relating to the custody of children of unmarried parents.
The Mother’s Rights
Unmarried and married parents often face the same legal issues regarding their children, though the law makes it somewhat more complicated for children born to unmarried parents. As a rule, unmarried mothers are granted primary right to custody of their children. This means she has complete authority to make any major and minor decisions regarding her child’s welfare.
A mother with legal and physical custody is responsible for decisions regarding:
- Home residence
- Child care
- Health needs (doctor, dental, therapy, counseling, etc.)
- Sports, church, summer camps, and other extracurricular activities
- Vacations and travel
The Father’s Rights
In an ideal situation, a father who wants to be involved in his child’s life will be able to work out shared custody or visitation with the child’s mother. However, in many cases this is complex. If the father’s name is written on the birth certificate, his parental rights will hold equal weight to the mother’s in court. However, if the father’s name is not on the birth certificate, the father must first prove paternity to pursue any parental rights.
If a father can prove paternity, he must then show to the court he is a suitable parent, and capable of taking on custodial rights. Single fathers are generally not granted primary physical custody of children when the mother is deemed a good parent. By securing his parental rights, however, the father may then be able to set up a legally binding shared custody arrangement or visitation schedule.
Even if unmarried, both parents are required to financially support any children they have. Depending on the incomes and responsibilities of each parent, the court will evaluate the contributions of each and the needs of the child to determine if one parent should contribute financially via child support payments. Should the parent paying support come into financial trouble, such as a job loss, he or she may have support re-evaluated based on the change in circumstances.
Typically, if the child spends the majority of his or her time living with one parent, the other parent will be required to pay support. If you believe you are owed child support from your child’s other parent, you have the option to sue and pursue legal means to have the court order the parent to contribute.
To discuss your parental rights and legal options, contact McKinley Irvin at any of our offices throughout Washington State.