Having a child is a miraculous experience. Having a child with a person you are not married to is no less miraculous, but it does present some legal challenges that can be overwhelming. Last year, more than 40 percent of all births in the US occurred to unmarried women. While the percentage of babies born to unwed parents in the state of Utah accounts for only 19 percent of all births, that is still nearly 10,000 children whose parents are faced with challenging legal circumstances in the wake of their birth.
Fortunately, many of the difficulties surrounding child support, custody, taxes, and decision making can be mitigated by addressing these three things:
1. Establish Paternity at or Before Birth
Before a father can be legally considered a father to a child, he must have established paternity. At that point, the court can create visitation agreements, draft custody arrangements, allow access to the child’s medical history, and create financial arrangements.
Without an established paternity, the child has no legal claim on their father’s financial benefits including Social Security insurance benefits, veteran’s benefits, health insurance benefits, or inheritance rights.
Even if a father’s paternity is not in question, no child support order can be put into place until paternity is legally established. This can be done in one of two ways. If there is no question who the father is, a man may gain rights to their child by signing a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (Utah Code Section 78B-15-302). This form can easily be filled out in the hospital shortly after the baby is born and does not require a paternity test as it is completely voluntary. However, if the child’s paternity is in question or if the child’s mother contests paternity, then a man must take a paternity test in order to determine the child’s biological connection.
2. Primary Custody Falls to the Mother
No matter how fit the father is, in Utah the unmarried mother gains a natural right to custody after the child is born. As a result, she has legal control over the child and her rights are superior not only to the father’s, but also to any other person. Fortunately, the father of the child can take action to be awarded legal custody or visitation of a child as long as his paternity is already established. If his name is on the birth certificate, he will be automatically recognized as the child’s legal parent and have as much legal claim in courts as the mother. If his paternity is not established at birth, his rights to custody will be based on his suitability as a parent once paternity is established.
Legal paternity is especially important if a mother abandons her child or if her parental rights are called into question. A father who has his paternity established at birth will automatically gain primary custody of a child if they are removed from the mother’s custody by the Division of Family and Child Services. Otherwise, if the father is not listed on the birth certificate, he will have to establish paternity, be subjected to a home study and await a decision while the child waits in foster care.
3. Taxes are a Sticking Point
Each year, only one parent can claim the child as a dependent on their income tax forms. Fortunately, who claims the child as a dependent can change from year to year. Many parents work out a plan based on income, custody arrangements and financial agreements that benefit everyone involved. The parent receiving child support does not claim it as income, meaning child support is not taxed. However, the parent paying the child support cannot claim the support as a tax deduction. While income taxes do not necessarily affect the day-to-day interaction with a child, it is an important part of the legal framework of a financial agreement.
Here are some resources to help you handle a high-conflict divorce:
Contact Salt Lake City Child Custody Issues For Unmarried Couples Attorney David Pedrazas
FAQ About Child Custody for Unmarried Couples
How Are Parenting Rights Affected When Unmarried Parents Split?
What Is Paternity?
How Is Paternity Established?
In Utah, the paternity of a child born to an unmarried couple can be established either voluntarily or involuntarily. A form, known as Recognition of Parentage, is voluntarily signed by both parents and notarized and recognizes paternity. It also allows the father’s name to be placed on the child’s birth certificate. Paternity can also be established through judicial proceedings; this typically involves comparing the father’s DNA with that of the child. Regardless of how paternity is established, the benefits and responsibilities of paternity are the same.
What Is a Presumption of Paternity?
The court will presume paternity if one of the following conditions is present:
- The man is married to the mother at the time of birth or the child was born within 280 days after the marriage ended
- The man welcomes the child into his home and tells everyone the child is his
- He and the mother have signed a Declaration of Parentage
- Blood or genetic tests show a 99 percent or greater probability that he is the father
The presumption of paternity does not necessarily guarantee that the man will have all paternity rights, especially if the couple is unmarried.
What Are the Benefits of Paternity?
- Ensures the child has legal rights and privileges such as the ability to inherit and have access to the father’s life insurance, medical insurance, and Social Security
- Provides the child with access to the father’s medical history which can be important in preventing and treating certain diseases
- Allows the father to be considered for custody on an equal footing with the mother and grants him a say in the child’s future
- Provides emotional benefits to the child by having access to his father and other relatives on the father’s side
What Is the Significance of Recognition of Parentage (ROP)?
The significance of the Recognition of Parentage (ROP) is that it legally establishes paternity. It does not automatically give the father rights of custody or parenting time if the parents are not living together; however, it allows him to go to court to seek these rights.
What Happens Once We Have a Signed ROP and an Agreement on Custody, Parenting Time and Child Support, What Happens?
The ROP and other aspects of the agreement are filed with the court. An experienced lawyer can help ensure the ROP has all the required information and that the agreement is fair.
Salt Lake City, Utah Family Law Attorney David Pedrazas Can Help
At the Law Office of David Pedrazas, PLLC, family law attorney David Pedrazas can help you resolve any paternity or child custody issues you are currently facing. With over 20 years of experience serving Utah families, he is not only familiar with the unique challenges that face unmarried parents, he also provides caring, tenacious representation to ensure you receive the rights your child deserves. For more information on your parental rights or to schedule a Legal Case Review, contact the Law Office of David Pedrazas today. Give us a call at 801-263-7078.