Unmarried parents are a diverse group. Some unmarried parents are in loving relationships and share a home, while others would be estranged if not for the child or children they share. Unmarried parents of all types, however, share unique issues with regard to child custody, child support and visitation rights.
Unlike divorced parents, for unmarried parents, custody, visitation and child support issues are not automatically determined and monitored by the courts. Instead, unmarried parents need to be pro-active and pursue court orders themselves.
Court orders use the power of the judicial system to hold parents accountable for paying child support and can legally enforce visitation rights. Court orders become particularly important in the event that unmarried parents live apart, or the relationship between parents becomes tense. Even when there is an amicable relationship between parents, establishing paternity, child support payments and visitation rights formally through a court order can help prevent future misunderstandings and disagreements.
Parenting Tips for Unmarried Parents
There are several other things unmarried parents can do to foster healthy relationships with their child. Unmarried parents may want to develop a parenting plan, which puts into writing certain decisions about a child's healthcare, education and religious beliefs, among other issues.
Since a child benefits from healthy relationships with both parents, under most circumstances it is in the best interest of the child to establish visitation arrangements that allow for time with both parents on a regular basis. Parents should work together to ensure that visitation with the non-custodial parent goes smoothly. This includes communicating with the other parent about a child's needs and likes and dislikes, and dropping off and picking up the child on time.
Parents should make sure that their time with the child is spent in a fun and meaningful way. It is also important to not have adult conversations about child support, visitation or other problems in front of the child. Doing so could compromise the relationship between a child and the parent that is perceived to be in the wrong.
Unmarried parents face a unique set of issues that can complicate their relationships with each other and their child. If you are an unmarried parent consider contacting an experienced family law attorney who can advise you of your options and guide you through the legal process.