Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

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Unmarried parents who split up after the birth of their child have to set up legal orders covering custody, visitation and child support to protect themselves. Regardless of the parents' ability to get along, relying on each others’ good will and promises made does not work. Circumstances can, and do, change unexpectedly. If this happens, the non-custodial parent who has not obtained legal orders can find himself unable to fight for his rights.

Child Support

Child support issues for both the unmarried mother and father affect each parent differently. The unmarried mother risks not being able to obtain needed financial support to assist in providing for her child unless she legally establishes a claim via a child support order in family court.

The unmarried father risks his financial health unless he insists on a legal child support order because, if he and his former partner rely on a private arrangement that has not been established in court, any money he has already given counts for nothing, according to If this happens, the father could find himself court-ordered to pay more than he is able to pay.

Financial child support is affected by two other facets of co-parenting. Visitation and custody affect how much child support the unmarried father is required to pay.


Unmarried parents who have separated, but still have an amicable relationship, benefit their child’s emotional well-being with their ability to co-parent and work with each other. If these parents have a private custody arrangement that has not been legally sanctioned in family court, the percentage of time-share, no matter how high, counts for nothing in the eyes of the judge. The judge would set the custody and visitation time-share at zero percent because of the lack of an official court order.

The unmarried non-custodial parent is further at risk because the custodial parent can decide, at any time, that the informal arrangement for custody is no longer beneficial for the child. Without a legal custody order, the unmarried non-custodial parent has no legal right to force his former partner to allow him custody of their child, according to


The unmarried non-custodial parent should take steps to protect his right to visit his child with a court order. Regardless of the fact that both parents get along with each other, the custodial parent could end visitation at any time. If this happens, the non-custodial parent has no legal way to enforce his ability to visit with his child.

If the parents have not adjudicated the paternity of the child, the mother has custody, according to The father has to register his paternity of the child in family court in order to legally seek visitation or custody.


About the Author

Genevieve Van Wyden began writing in 2007. She has written for “Tu Revista Latina” and owns three blogs. She has worked as a CPS social worker, gaining experience in the mental-health system. Van Wyden earned her Bachelor of Arts in journalism from New Mexico State University in 2006.

Photo Credits

  • way for parent with child - sign on pavement image by endostock from