What Is It?
You Must Take Extra Legal Precautions to Protect Your Parental Rights
As an unmarried parent, you must take extra legal precautions to protect your rights. Parenting rights that are automatically conferred on married partners don't necessarily apply to you. For example, depending on your state's laws, you may not be allowed to authorize emergency medical treatment for your child or stepchild if you are a nonlegally recognized parent. You may not be automatically granted custody or visitation rights if your relationship with your partner ends and you are a nonlegally recognized parent. You may not automatically become the legal guardian of your child or stepchild if your partner dies and you are a nonlegally recognized parent, no matter how long you've raised the child.
Caution: State laws vary widely, and some of the following issues may not apply to your situation. It's very important to discuss your concerns with an attorney who is experienced with state and federal laws that affect unmarried couples with children.
Issues for Same-Sex Couples
Although children born to, or adopted by, heterosexual couples are generally recognized as the legal children of both partners, the same is not necessarily true of children born to, or adopted by, same-sex couples. Consequently, securing legal ties to your children is often a major concern, and you'll want to seek legal advice from an attorney experienced with family law in your state.
Protecting Your Parental Rights
You can help protect your parenting rights with key legal documents. These include your child's birth certificate, a paternity statement, a coparenting agreement, a nomination of guardianship clause in a will, and a form authorizing consent to medical treatment for your child authorized by your partner. Bolster these legal documents by discussing your arrangements with the teachers, medical-care workers, recreation leaders, and others in your child's daily life.
Using Key Legal Documents to Protect Your Parental Rights
Birth Certificate and Paternity Statement
If you and your partner are the unmarried biological parents of a child, you need to ensure that you are both recognized as the legal parents. List both your names on the birth certificate. If applicable, you should both sign a paternity statement acknowledging the father's parentage.
A co-parenting agreement identifies the parental rights and responsibilities you and your partner have mutually agreed on. Some areas you may want to address include the following:
- Payment of insurance and medical bills
- Payment of education costs
- Access to school and medical records
- Custody rights if your relationship ends
- Visitation rights to your partner's children if your relationship ends
- Support payments
A family court will disregard custody or visitation provisions if the court determines they are not in the best interests of the child. State law may prohibit you from making binding provisions about child support payments. Although a court may not specifically endorse such agreements, they nonetheless provide evidence of the parties' intent and can be helpful in resolving disputes regarding children when a relationship ends.
Nomination of Guardianship Clause
As a custodial parent, it's possible that after your death, your child's grandparents could seek custody. If you wish to nominate your partner to become your child's guardian after your death, you can do so by adding a clause to your will. Although your surviving partner may have to establish legal guardianship through the courts, the court will take this clause in your will into consideration as evidence of your wishes.
Consent to Medical Treatment Form
As a custodial parent, you can sign a consent to medical treatment form allowing your partner to authorize emergency medical treatment for your child.
Discuss Your Joint Parenting Roles with Significant Adults in Your Child's Daily Life
Notify the significant adults in your child's daily life (teachers, health-care workers, recreation leaders, and others) about these documents. Discuss your joint parenting arrangement with these individuals. Be sure they understand the roles you each play in your child's life.
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