Nowadays, it is more and more routine for unmarried couples to have children. But what occurs when those parents decide to separate? A normal divorce process does not go on like those with married couples. A family court, however, does adjudicate differences between unmarried parents, similar in procedure to those who are married. That’s because unmarried parents usually have the same rights and obligations as married parents in regard to child custody and support. There are, however, some distinct legal requirements compared to married parents.
The main difference between a typical divorce and the separation of an unmarried couple is the need for the father to first establish his parental rights with the state. By establishing paternity, a father is able to guard his rights to be involved in his child’s life. It allows him to seek visitation rights or custody in the event that the parents no longer get along, which can be key if the child’s mother or guardian does not accommodate the father’s wishes to see his child. It also protects a father’s right to seek custody should the mother die or become disabled later on.
If the father signed the child’s birth certificate, then that paperwork is enough to determine paternity and he will automatically be accepted as the child’s legal father. If he did not sign the child’s birth certificate, then the court may ask to confirm paternity through DNA testing. That will establish that the man in question is in fact the child’s biological father. The case can move ahead once paternity has been proven.
In custody cases between both married parents and unmarried parents, Colorado courts chiefly make decisions based on the child’s best interests as contrasted to the rights of either parent. Common best interest factors include the child’s relationship with each parent, the child’s current living situation, the nearness of the parents, and the willingness of each parent to foster a healthy relationship between the child and other parent. In view of these interests, courts may chose to award joint custody to both parents, award full custody to one parent, or set visitation rights.
In some instances, joint custody may not be the best option for unmarried parents based on the family and child’s best interests. Other options may be negotiated, such as advocating for sole custody, sole custody with visitation, and visitation rights or custody for the grandparents of a child with unmarried parents. Before awarding sole custody, the courts may require both parents to undergo a parental evaluation.