With the holiday engagement season, it seems that weddings are on everyone’s mind. But if you and your partner are raising kids together but have decided not to marry, you are not alone. Every year, the number of parents cohabitating while raising children instead of getting married continues to grow. For some couples, it is a conscious decision to avoid the pressure and expense of a wedding. For others, avoiding marriage comes from a desire to avoid divorce.
However, just because a couple is not married does not mean there are not major complications if you decide to end the romantic relationship with your coparent. While mothers tend to have presumed custody except in cases of abuse or neglect, sometimes, fathers are. In fact, fathers who are not listed on the birth certificate run into obstacles when pursuing legal or physical custody of their child. Some dads even run into significant difficulty trying to stay in contact with their children if he and the mother no longer wish to live together.
Obviously, the easiest route to avoid legal issues later is to make sure that you sign the birth certificate as the child’s father. Both you and the child’s mother simply sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form after the child’s birth. You then have all the same legal rights and responsibilities as a father who has married the mother.
If it is too late for you to take that route, there are still options. If you are the biological father of the child, you can request a paternity test in a contested custody situation. There are noninvasive tests that use a cheek-swab sample to analyze the DNA to match a child and father.
Unfortunately, the legal ramifications of parenthood still lag behind social norms. In some jurisdictions, including Virginia and the District of Columbia, the Acknowledgement of Paternity form does not allow for situations where a same-sex couple seeks legal parental rights for their child. Advocates seek to change the form to a gender-neutral document that would establish parentage.