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.

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.

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