American law has strong protections for the parent-child relationship that are even more important than the bond between parents. Here are some things that unmarried parents should think about.
A child is typically born to two legal parents. Establishing motherhood is generally easy, as the person that gives birth is almost always the mother (surrogates are the only notable exception). Establishing fatherhood can be more complicated. When a child is born to a married couple, the law automatically assumes the mother’s husband is the child’s father.
For unmarried fathers it is more complicated. In an amicable situation, the father will typically sign some paperwork associated with the birth certificate and he will then have the rights and obligations of the father. In a more contentious situation, DNA evidence or other testimony may be needed to determine parentage. Establishing parentage is also important for acquiring up government benefits and for setting the child up for inheritance from his or her parents.
Choose a mutually acceptable name
Unmarried parents will have to agree on their child’s name, but they can choose pretty much anything they want.
Choose a mutually acceptable surname
Unmarried couples have different surnames. While choosing their child’s surname they can do the following:
- They can use the surname of one of the partners
- They can use both their surnames with a hyphen
- They can use one partner’s surname as the middle name and the other’s surname as the last name
- They can use an entirely new surname of their choice
Government benefits for your child
Children of unmarried couples are entitled to government benefits, like Social Security survivorship benefits, government pension, etc if like all other children. The name of the biological or legal parents of the child must be mentioned in their birth certificate. If the father’s name is not mentioned in their birth certificate, they might face troubles in proving paternity. However even if the father’s name is not mentioned in the birth certificate, the child will still be entitled to usual government benefits.
Unmarried parents have full rights and responsibilities
Sometimes unmarried parents think they can informally agree that perhaps one parent will raise the child and the other will not be involved. Or maybe a father will feel like he has no right to force his way into the life of his child when he has no relationship with the mother. That is not how parentage works, though. Each parent usually has the right to custody (or at least visitation) and also the responsibility to provide support.
Adopting a partner’s child
Many people in a relationship want to adopt his or her partner’s child. This is not always an option. A child is generally only allowed to have two parents, and parents rarely lose their legal rights unless they give them up. A parent could give up his or her rights by consenting to another person adopting their child, abandoning the child, or abusing the child. Of course, a parent could also pass away. Once a child has, for example, lost his or her father, then the mother’s new partner could step in and adopt as the new father. Note that adoption by unmarried parents is often disfavored.
Only one parent can claim tax breaks
Only one parent can claim the tax breaks that come along with being a parent, but parents often work out ways to split the benefits by one parent claiming the deductions and then paying half to the other parent.
Non-parents have limited rights
Often live-in partners take on some parental roles for children that are not their own. It is important to realize that unless these other individuals are somehow awarded joint custody, they have a very limited role. A non-parent cannot interfere with the health, safety, and welfare decisions that are being made by the parents.
Adopting a child
Unmarried couples are allowed to adopt children in most states. The process of adoption however is a little difficult for unmarried couples than married couples. Social services and government agencies are more stringent with unmarried couples while ensuring that their home is safe and stable for children. It is advisable that unmarried couple hire a family law attorney before going the process of adoption.
When an unmarried couple adopts a child, both partners become the legal parents of the child and both of them are have equal rights and responsibilities to the child.
Breakups do not impact parentage
A breakup of two unmarried parents does not change the right as responsibilities those individuals have as parents. A parent still has the right to seek custody, visitation, and input into parenting decisions. That parent will also still have the responsibility to ensure his or her children are cared for.