Why Unmarried Parents Should Still Work Out Child Custody Arrangements
Many cohabitating couples choose not to get married these days, and a lot of them have children together. Unmarried couples living with children they have together are not much different from married couples with children. And just like with a lot of marriages, unmarried couples often decide to split up as well, leaving the future of their children in doubt.
When an unmarried couple with children splits up, they should work out a child custody arrangement just like a divorcing couple would. But there are some differences between these two situations that it is important to be aware of. When a married couple in Virginia has a child, it is assumed that the mother’s husband is the legal and biological father and both parents have equal rights to the child. This is not the case with an unmarried couple, however.
When an unmarried woman in Virginia has a child, she starts with sole custody of the child, and there is no automatic presumption under the law that the man she is with is the father. For the father to establish parentage, he will need to either voluntarily declare his paternity in writing; or if it is disputed, he will need to establish his paternity through a DNA test.
If the couple is in agreement that the man in the relationship is the father of the child, then establishing paternity should be a fairly smooth and straightforward process. Mainly, it involves filling out and filing a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity (AOP) form. This is often done at the hospital or birthing center at the time the child is born, in which case the father’s name can be added to the birth certificate right away. But if it was not done then, the form can be filed later with the Virginia Office of Vital Records.
Complications could arise with the paternity process for a number of reasons. If an AOP form was not filed yet and the mother decides that she wants to keep sole custody of the child, she could become uncooperative, in which case the father might have to file a Petition to Establish Paternity with the court, so the court can order a DNA test. Conversely, the father could decide that he doesn’t want to pay child support or have any involvement in the child’s life, in which case the mother may have to be the one to file the petition and establish paternity with the court.
If you are having any trouble with the process of establishing paternity for a child of an unmarried couple, Buck, Toscano & Terezkerz is here to help. Call us today at (434) 977-7977 to speak with one of our attorneys about your situation.
Child Custody Plans for Unmarried Parents
Once paternity has been established, child custody for an unmarried couple will likely be handled similarly to that of a divorcing couple with the best interests of the child always serving as the overriding factor.
There are two types of custody that would need to be determined: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to the authority to make important decisions on behalf of the child, such as decisions around healthcare, education, religious upbringing, and extracurricular activities. Physical custody is where the child resides on a day-to-day basis.
In many cases, the court will tend toward awarding joint legal custody of the child while giving one parent sole physical custody and the other parent generous visitation rights. In some instances, the parents will be awarded joint physical custody where the child alternates living with each parent on a regular basis (e.g., weekends, weekly, monthly, etc.). And there are also cases when it is appropriate to award one parent with sole legal and physical custody with the other parent receiving limited/restricted visitation rights.
Whatever your situation, it is generally in the best interests of everyone involved to work out a custody arrangement between the parents and their attorneys, rather than leaving it for the court to decide. Working it out yourselves is not only less expensive, but by doing it this way, you are also more likely to come up with a custody agreement that you and your ex will be happy with.
Contact Our Skilled and Knowledgeable Virginia Family Law Attorneys
Child custody arrangements for unmarried parents who split up can be more complicated than for divorcing parents because of the establishment of paternity issue and some other unique factors. And because the couple is not legally dissolving a marriage, they sometimes overlook the need to work out a custody agreement for their children. Failing to do so creates a lot of uncertainty for the kids, however, because informal agreements can easily fall apart and leave everyone in limbo.
If you need any kind of help with the establishment of paternity, child custody arrangements, or any other type of family legal matter in Virginia, contact Buck, Toscano & Terezkerz today by calling (434) 977-7977 or sending us an online message. We look forward to serving you!