Common Custody & Support Issues Faced by Unmarried Parents

Unwed Parents Face Unique Challenges

When unmarried parents separate, they face unique challenges in dealing with custody and child support issues. This is especially the case when disputes arise between parents. While you will have to go through some of the same processes of developing custody and child support orders that divorcing parents do, you may also face paternity and presumed parentage problems.

Common issues faced by unmarried parents when they separate include:

  • Custody disputes, including nonparent custody issues
  • Child support disputes
  • Visitation issues, including stepparent visitation
  • Paternity issues, including establishing paternity
  • Presumed parentage
  • Parental alienation

These issues can be incredibly stressful to deal with, and it is not uncommon to feel overwhelmed. However, you are not alone in this. If you are separating from your child’s other parent and are unmarried, you should consult with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can help identify all your legal options and ensure your rights as a parent are protected.

Below we review some of the common issues faced by unmarried parents and provide guidance on dealing with these issues when they arise.

Establishing Paternity or Parentage

In California, if a woman gives birth and is not married, the paternity of her child is not presumed. This can be confusing for people, especially in situations where the mother and father of the child are still in a relationship. This is made more confusing because, in California, if a couple is married, the mother’s husband is presumed to be the child’s biological father.

Ways to establish paternity in California include:

  • Signing a voluntary declaration of parentage or paternity – this can be done at the hospital when the child is born or later
  • Requesting an action to establish parentage through your local child support agency – this can be done while the mother is still pregnant and may include genetic testing
  • Start a parentage case through the court system

Regardless of which path you take, it is important that you have your parentage established legally. Without having your parentage recognized legally, you cannot proceed with other important family court matters, like custody, visitation, and child support.

To learn more about establishing parentage in California, review the California Courts’ website here.

Asserting Parental Rights of Presumed Parents

A presumed parent is a parent who may or may not be the biological parent of a child but who has had their parentage legally recognized by the courts. There are several ways to demonstrate that you are the presumed parent of a child, including having your name recorded on the child’s birth certificate or an existing family court order establishing your parental relationship with the child. You may also be recognized as the presumed parent if you have acted and raised the child as if it were your own.

When an unmarried couple separates, one parent may find that their former partner is unwilling to allow them access to their child. However, both biological and presumed parents have legal rights to custody and visitation with their children. If you are being denied access to your child or your child’s other parent is actively working to alienate you as a parent, you can seek redress with the courts.

Requesting & Enforcing Child Support

Both parents are required by California law to provide financially for their minor children. Child support orders are often established when the child’s parents are going through a divorce. However, establishing a child support order when the child’s parents are unmarried can be a bit more complicated. Before child support can be ordered, the paternity/parentage of the child must be established (if it isn’t already). The process of opening a child support case and establishing parentage can be done through your local child support agency (CSA).

The process for requesting child support through your local CSA includes:

  • Locating the child’s parents
  • Filing a summons and complaint
  • Establishing parentage
  • Creating a stipulated agreement with help from a caseworker
  • Filing the order
  • Attend a court hearing if necessary

Once a child support order is registered with the courts, the person ordered to pay support is legally required to comply with the order. Failure to do so can result in the CSA or the courts taking enforcement measures, including driver’s license suspensions, property liens, and withholding of tax refunds.

When you are in a situation where you need to request child support or need help enforcing an existing order, it is recommended that you consult with an experienced attorney to ensure that your rights as a parent are being protected. If you are an unmarried parent struggling with a custody or child support issue, reach out to our law firm for help. We are prepared to discuss your case today.