The Basics of Child Custody for Unmarried Parents in California

Four Important Steps You Must Take With Child Support and Custody Modifications

In all child custody cases, whether the parents were previously married or not, the courts will look at the best interests of the child when determining any child custody concerns. The goal, in most cases, is to allow both parents to have time with the child, since most children benefit heavily from having both a mother and father involved in their lives. However, child custody cases involving unmarried parents can prove more complex than child custody cases between parents who were once married.

Mothers’ Rights in Child Custody Claims

In cases where the parents were never married, and the mother was not married at the time of the child’s birth, the mother typically starts out with sole legal and physical custody of the child. Unmarried mothers also have full rights to determine how they want to handle a pregnancy and birth: for example, a father cannot require the mother to carry the pregnancy to term, nor can he demand the right to be in the delivery room at the time of the child’s birth. However, fathers also have some rights to a child, whether the parents were married at the time of the child’s conception or birth or not.

Establishing Paternity

In order to establish parenting rights, the unmarried father of a child must first establish paternity. If he signs the birth certificate at the time of a child’s birth, this is legally considered an acknowledgement of paternity on the part of both parents, and can help secure the father’s right to the child. If the father does not sign the birth certificate, on the other hand, a paternity test may prove necessary to establish paternity.

What are a Father’s Rights when Unmarried?

An unmarried father may worry that he may not have as many rights to a child as a married father. However, if the parents are living together at the child’s birth, the father will likely have the same rights to the child that he could expect if he was married to the child’s mother. If the parents are not living together, the father may still have the right to establish visitation and custody rights. Several factors, however, may come into play in determining a reasonable custody arrangement.

If both parents can agree on a reasonable custody and visitation arrangement, the courts will usually approve the arrangement. In some cases, however, child custody can turn incredibly contentious. In those cases, the courts will work to come up with a solution that best fits the needs of the child. A child’s needs and best interests will always be paramount in determining child custody arrangements.

How the Child’s Age Can Impact Custody Arrangements

A very young child might not yet have the ability to spend the night away from the mother, especially if the mother is breastfeeding. Close contact between mother and child is critical to establishing milk supply, and some children will refuse a bottle outright. In the case of a very young child, while the courts may offer frequent visitation to help establish a relationship between father and child, the courts may not require overnight visitation until the child is older, particularly until the child is weaned.

Current Parenting Time Can Impact Child Custody

When looking into child custody arrangements, the courts will often consider the current distribution of parenting time. If the father has had relatively little contact with the child to this point, for example, it may be necessary to establish a relationship between father and child before setting up more frequent parenting time. This can happen when an unmarried father is not particularly involved in a child’s life when the child is small, including when a father does not know about a child conceived with an unmarried partner. However, even when parents live together, one parent may be the primary caregiver for the child and spend much more time with that child, which can make it more beneficial to the child to spend more time with that parent in the future.

Other Factors That Can Impact Custody Arrangements

In addition to the child’s age and current parenting time, a variety of other factors can influence child custody arrangements. The courts may look at the number of other children in each household, including the child’s relationship with those siblings, the parents’ work schedules, how far apart the two households are, and the moral character of the parents. Each child custody arrangement is unique, regardless of whether the parents are married or unmarried at the time of the child’s birth.

Child Support and Unmarried Parents

If the child’s parents are unmarried but living together, they may share household expenses and costs. On the other hand, if they are unmarried and not living together, it may be necessary to set up a formal child support arrangement. Child support is a payment designed to help support the child. Generally, it is paid out by the parent who spends less parenting time with the child to the parent who has primary custody of the child. Both parents’ incomes can also impact child support arrangements.

Child support is money passed tax-free between the two parents for the care of the child: that is, the parent who has to pay child support cannot claim it on their taxes, and the parent who receives child support should not claim it as income on their taxes. Child support, like child custody, is set by the courts with the child’s best interests in mind.

Who Claims the Child of Unmarried Parents on Their Taxes?

Only one parent can claim a child on their taxes each year, regardless of marital status. Often, it is most beneficial for the parent who has higher income to claim the child. However, in many cases, the parent who has primary custody of the child will claim the child on their taxes. Your child custody arrangement may lay out who can claim the child each year.

Do You Need Help Establishing a Child Custody Agreement?

If you have a child with an unmarried partner in California, you may need an attorney to help you establish child custody and a child support arrangement. Contact  Pedrick Law Group, APC at 818-325-3934 for a free consultation.

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