Child custody and support with unmarried parents

unmarried couple with child splitting upRegardless of whether a couple is married when they split up and a child is involved the most important thing is that child’s wellbeing.

However, being unwed can have its complications when it comes to child custody and support in Texas. The family law attorneys at the Stout Law Firm have experience helping unmarried parents navigate issues of child custody and support in the Houston area and are here to provide guidance about the potential issues that may arise when negotiating child custody and support amongst unwed parents.

Unmarried Parents Who are Both Legal Parents

In cases where both parents are considered the legal parents of the child even though they are unmarried, issues of child custody and support are handled in the same way as legally married parents.

In Texas, child custody is also referred to as conservatorship, and unmarried parents can agree to a custody and visitation schedule through a parenting plan.

If custody cannot be agreed upon, the issue goes to court.

Child custody for unmarried couples is looked at through the lens of what is in the best interests of the child.

There are a number of factors that are looked at by the court to determine the best interest of the child including whether joint custody would benefit the child. Some of these include:

  • emotionally and psychologically
  • whether each parent will promote a parent-child relationship with the other parent
  • whether the parents can communicate effectively
  • how much each parent contributed to the child’s upbringing
  • how geographically close or far the parents are to each other
  • Finally, any other criteria that is significant to the decision

Since each case and set of circumstances can vary greatly, it is important to contact an experienced family law attorney for advice regarding your particular situation.

For children ages twelve and older, Texas courts give some weight and deference to the will of the child and, if requested, the child and the judge may talk privately about the child’s wishes. However, the judge will still consider the child’s best interest prior to make any determination.

Child support for unmarried couples that are both legal parents is also determined the same way as a married couple. The court looks at which parent has more physical custody of the child and orders the non-custodial parent to pay child support for their needs.

The amount of child support is determined as a percentage of the non-custodial parent’s net monthly income.

Unmarried Parents Where Only One is a Legal Parent

In cases where only one parent is the legal parent of the child, custody and support determinations are incredibly different. An unmarried parent that is not listed as the child’s legal parent has virtually no rights to custody of the child.

At the same time, the legal parent has basically no enforceable rights to get child support from the non-legal parent. The most important thing to do in this situation is to establish both unmarried parents as the legal parents of the child before moving forward with determinations of custody and support. There are several ways to do this:

  1. Acknowledgment of Paternity – If the parents agree upon the identity of the father, they can execute a legal document called an Acknowledgment of Paternity. This is the easiest way to establish paternity, but it must be by agreement of both the mother and the father.
  2. Paternity Lawsuit in Court – A paternity lawsuit, which is called a Suit to Adjudicate Parentage, can be filed with the court and the first step will be for the alleged father to take a DNA test to prove parentage. Once that is completed the court will move forward with adjudicating paternity and will put an order in place that sets forth conservatorship, rights and duties, visitation and child support.

However, in situations where the non-legal parent does not wish to become the legal parent or disputes the parentage, it can be established involuntarily with the courts.

Why is Establishing Parentage Important?

Unless legal parentage is established for a child of unmarried parents, the legal parent is free to take the child anywhere and limit visitation to the child with the other parent and that parent’s family. The legal parent retains all physical and legal custody of the child until parentage is established.

In addition, establishing parentage and thereby rights to visitation are important for maintaining a healthy relationship with the child throughout its life.

At the same time, the unmarried legal parent has no right to claim child support from the non-legal parent until parentage is established. Even if both parents were financially supporting the family prior to splitting up, the legal parent cannot ask for child support unless a legal obligation is established through parentage with the non-legal parent.

The legal parent will be responsible for all costs and expenses pertaining to the child in addition to paying for basic living expenses. In addition to child support, establishing parentage also means help in providing health benefits and inheritance rights from both parents for the child in the long-term.

Contact Our Family Law Attorneys to discuss your legal options

If you have questions regarding child support or custody in a situation where you are not married to the other parent, or you are an unmarried couple with a child splitting up and you have questions, our experienced family law attorneys at the Stout Law Firm may be able to provide some guidance.

Call our Houston office or contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your family law needs.

The Stout Law Firm, P.L.L.C. is here to assist you in getting the necessary order in place. Contact our office today for a consultation regarding your suit.

Angela Stout

Angela A. Stout was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in 2007. Ms. Stout has practiced law since 2007, with an emphasis in representing clients in family law matters. She earned her Juris Doctorate degree from South Texas College of Law in May of 2007. Ms. Stout became Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in December of 2015. The Texas Board of Legal Specialization is a specialized group of attorneys that must obtain exceptional experience in a specific area of law, pass a comprehensive exam, and complete ongoing continuing legal education in that specialized area. Additionally, Ms. Stout is certified as a mediator by the A.A. White Dispute Resolution Center.

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