Unmarried Couples & Parenting: Frequently Asked Questions

At James H. Wilson Law Firm, we understand that unmarried partners who choose to raise a child together face a series of challenges and legal considerations unique to their situation. We are here to guide you through these times, providing clarity where there may be confusion. Below, find answers to some frequently asked questions regarding parenting issues for unmarried couples.

For a child’s biological parents to be recognized as legal parents, it’s imperative that both the mother and the father’s names be recorded on the child’s birth certificate. Parents seeking to add their names should contact their state’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, which can be located via the website of the National Center for Health Statistics.

Most states necessitate unmarried fathers to establish their paternity by signing an official affidavit or acknowledgment. Even so, we advise that both parents create, sign, and notarize a statement confirming paternity. Filing this with your state’s Vital Statistics ensures your rights as parents are legally acknowledged.

Are Children of Unmarried Parents Entitled to Government Benefits?

Yes. A child of legal or biological parents is entitled to government benefits, such as Social Security and pension benefits. To secure these benefits, ensure that birth certificate and paternity acknowledgments are settled early in the child’s life. Otherwise, benefit claims may be denied due to a lack of legal proof of parenthood.

What Surname Can the Child of Unmarried Parents Have?

In most states, parents have the freedom to choose their child’s surname, be it the mother’s, the father’s, or an entirely different name. Should parents choose, surnames can be hyphenated or changed by amending the birth certificate through your state’s Department of Vital Statistics.

Can Unmarried Couples Jointly Adopt a Child?

Many states permit joint adoptions by unmarried couples, although potential discrimination from some agencies may require couples to provide extra evidence of a stable, nurturing home environment. It’s beneficial to consult with a family law attorney to understand your rights and any practical advice relevant to adoption processes.

Following a joint adoption, both partners have equal responsibilities and rights concerning the child’s upbringing, custody, and child support.

What Is Second-Parent Adoption, and Is It Possible for Unmarried Partners?

Second-parent adoption allows a non-biological parent to become a legal guardian, akin to a stepparent adoption in married scenarios. However, the acceptance of such arrangements varies among states and typically requires legal counsel to navigate. Second-parent adoption is contingent upon consent from both legal parents, the noncustodial parent’s unfitness, abandonment, or death.

Can Each Unmarried Parent Claim Their Child as a Dependent on Separate Tax Returns?

Similar to divorced couples, only one unmarried parent can claim their child as a dependent for tax purposes. The benefit usually goes to the parent in the higher tax bracket. Parents may come to a prior agreement in writing on how to share the tax advantages.

Can a Non-Parent Caretaker Be Responsible for Signing Off on a Child’s Activities or Make Medical Decisions?

Typically, legal guardians have the primary authority over these decisions. Non-parent caretakers may become emergency contacts and could be authorized to pick up the child from school with prior legal parent notification. For additional rights, the legal parent may need to set up specific permissions through relevant authorities.

How Does Separation Affect the Parenting Rights and Responsibilities of Unmarried Parents?

The separation of unmarried parents who are both legal guardians does not inherently change their rights or responsibilities. Both parents typically retain equal custody rights unless ruled otherwise by a court. A non-custodial legal parent should maintain involvement and support to uphold their parental rights. If a partner isn’t a legal parent, they may have limited legal rights following separation—a personal agreement or court petition based on state law might govern visitation.

Parenting as an unmarried couple involves nuanced legal terrain. We at James H. Wilson are committed to providing our clients with advice and representation tailored to their unique situations. For more information or to schedule a consultation, please contact us at 804.740.6464.

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