When you and your partner decided to move in together, you may have hoped for an ideal life. Whatever the reasons for putting off or rejecting the institution of marriage, your life together felt complete. Even when your first child arrived, it may not have occurred to you that there would be legal ramifications when raising a family without a marriage license.
Now that your relationship is coming to an end, you may be shocked to realize that your partner has primary rights to the children you have been raising together.
In the eyes of the law, an unmarried mother is the natural parent of a child. Ideally, the two of you can come to an agreeable arrangement for shared parenting. If your parting is less than amicable, you may have to fight for your parental rights.
Seeking custody rights in the best interests of your children
If you have hopes of preserving your relationships with your children, you must establish paternity rights. If your partner is a good mother, a court is not likely to take the children from her and grant you full custody, but it will establish fair custody between you if you are certified as the children's father. To improve the chances of gaining equal custody rights, you can take these steps:
- Insisting on a paternity test if you have any doubts the children are yours
- Getting a court order if the mother of your children refuses a paternity test
- Voluntarily claiming paternity of the children by signing an Acknowledgment of Paternity Affidavit through Pennsylvania's Department of Health and Vital Records
- Understanding that claiming paternity means you accept responsibility for financial support of the children
- Seeking legal assistance
Paternity issues can be complicated, and decisions made in the courtroom can have a lasting impact on you and your family. You have likely been a strong influence in the lives of your children so far, and studies show that children benefit in many ways from having strong bonds with both their parents after a separation.
An attorney can help you with any petitions or legal questions you may have about the process of seeking your parental rights. In addition, if you and your spouse have issues concerning the division of your jointly owned property, you may benefit from the advice of a legal professional.