Co-Parenting Questions as Never-Married Parents

Not all co-parents must be divorced to share parenting responsibilities.

Not all co-parents are divorced. In fact, co-parents never had to be married in the first place to share parenting responsibilities after separating. Never-married parents face similar challenges to parents going through a divorce, yet some issues are even more complex in a never-married parenting situation.

Determining parenting responsibilities on a legal scale can prove to be a different and more complicated process for never-married parents. In this situation, understanding your rights as a never-married parent is key to navigating this process. Consider these questions about co-parenting as a never-married parent.

Are we required to prove parentage to the court?

When a child is born to never-married parents, the mother's name will be documented on the birth certificate. The father's name may be documented on the birth certificate as well, and in having his name there, he is identified as having custodial rights to the child just as the mother. That said, some states may require additional verification of parentage on the part of the father such as by way of a DNA test or by signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage form. Check with your attorney to go over the laws specific to your state to see if you are required to provide more information to prove paternity. 

What happens after we've proven parentage?

At this point, never-married parents should create a parenting plan, just as divorcing parents would. This will lay out a parenting schedule, child support, and other arrangements that concern their child. Never-married parents may have a chance to work out these arrangements on their own or with the help of a neutral third-party such as a mediator.

If these strategies are not viable options due to conflict or stark disagreements between parents, the court may determine parenting arrangements instead. Every state has their own laws surrounding the determination of parenting-related arrangements, but it's very common for courts across the United States to look out for the well-being of a child and serve their best interests first and foremost. 

What must be considered in a parenting agreement for never-married parents?

Never-married parents who have declared parentage make many of the same decisions that married parents make as they go through a divorce. As co-parents, don't miss these key points as you create your parenting plan:

  • Be mindful as you craft your parenting schedule. If you plan to share parenting time, decide on a schedule that favors your child. Many states prefer that both parents spend plenty of time with their child, so try to agree on a parenting time rotation that allows your child to see you and your co-parent on a regular basis. Beyond the everyday schedule, don't forget to talk about events like holidays, birthdays, school breaks, and other special dates. Get your schedule laid out in a shared calendar that you and your co-parent can both access; this helps to ensure that you are both always on the same page. 
     
  • Have a plan for handling expenses, reimbursements, and payments between each other. Many never-married parents share financial responsibilities for their child and need to decide how they plan to split these costs and reimburse one another as necessary. Some never-married parents also face child support payments and require a plan for making these payments. Carefully document how you plan to handle child-related costs and money transfers between you and your co-parent. Like your schedule, document these decisions in a place that is easily accessible to both of you. Also, decide on a secure payment method so you can rest assured that any funds going between you two are making it to the right places in a timely manner.
     
  • Know how you will face big decisions for your child. Sometimes referred to as legal custody, many never-married parents share the responsibility of making big decisions for their child. These may include choices concerning education, medical care, religious practice, and much more. While every decision that never-married parents face is unique, they can prepare themselves for these moments by having a solid plan for communication. Decide on a secure method of communication that allows you to document conversations and big decisions you make. Written methods of communication often help here so that you can go back and see what you discussed later on. 

Never-married parents may face certain obstacles that married parents won't as often such as if parentage must be proved. Nonetheless, married and never-married parents should have the same goal as they navigate separation: to reach a solid parenting plan that favors their child's well-being and keeps everyone moving forward successfully.