Mothers and fathers do not need to be married to each other to be loving and capable parents. It is also becoming increasingly common for unmarried couples to have and raise children. According to Pew Research Center statistics, about 33 percent of children in the U.S. are raised by unmarried parents.
However, whether you are a single parent sharing custody of your child or you are in a committed relationship but not married, there are some decisions you will need to make that married parents typically do not have to make. These decisions protect your child and your rights as a parent, so it is wise to make them sooner, rather than later.
- What names are on the birth certificates? Unmarried parents will need to be especially deliberate regarding the names on a child's birth certificate. If you are sure about parentage, both parents' names should appear. If you are unsure, consider a paternity test or voluntary acknowledgement of paternity. You should also think about your child's name and which parent's last name they will have.
- Do you have plans for adoption in the future? If one of you is not the biological parent of the child, it can be crucial to discuss any plans for adoption that you might have. Second-parent adoptions are usually easier when parents are married, so if you are unmarried, prepare for some legal challenges if you wish to adopt your partner's child.
- What will you do if you break up? Break ups can be just as difficult for unmarried parents as a divorce is for married parents. They can be especially painful if a person does not have legal parental rights. In these situations, breaking up typically means that the non-parent has no parental rights or obligations. As such, you can discuss putting together a parenting agreement that helps you protect your roles and responsibilities.
Discussing these decisions as early as possible can help you avoid costly -- and often contentious -- battles over matters like paternity, child support and child custody if you break up. Should you have questions or concerns about legal issues and procedures, you can consult an attorney to help you understand the system and protect your family.