Nowadays, it isn’t uncommon to find unmarried couples with children. In fact, statistics show that roughly half the children born in the United States are born to unwed parents.
While numerous Colorado laws apply to both married and unmarried parents, the legal precedent is not always clear when it comes to arrangements for child custody and child care for unmarried parents.
The primary difference between a standard divorce and the separation of unwed parents is the father’s need to take legal action to establish paternity. Establishing paternity is necessary to safeguard his rights to be involved in his child’s life. Without identifying himself as the child’s legal father, he has no right to ask the Colorado State Judicial Branch for visitation or custody. If the father signed the child’s birth certificate, then establishing his parental rights is a simple process. If he did not, however, then the process may be slightly more complex.
There are typically two ways to establish paternity. The first way is voluntarily, where both parents agree who the child’s father is. In such a scenario, the law allows them to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form, which essentially ascertains the alleged father as the child’s legal father. The father’s name will then be added to the child’s birth certificate.
The second way to establish paternity is through a court action. If the parents disagree on paternity, a judge will likely require the alleged father to take a paternity test before determining who the child’s father is and what the father’s rights and responsibilities are.
Once paternity has been established, a case can move forward to resolve custody disputes in the same manner that it would for married and divorcing parents. In other words, Colorado courts will determine custody based on the child’s best interests.
After taking numerous factors into consideration, the courts may opt to award full custody to one parent, award joint custody to both parents, dictate visitation rights, and set amounts and a schedule for payments of child support.
Parental responsibilities refer to both physical and legal custody of the child. By law, an unwed father cannot share parental rights with the child’s mother until paternity has been established. Each of the child’s legal parents may request the court to define parental responsibilities if the unmarried partners have not resided together previously, or if they choose to separate their child between two households later on.
When it comes to child support matters, Colorado law protects the rights of both parents. An unmarried parent may be entitled to receive child support from the other parent. If a judge were to require an unmarried father to pay child support against his wishes, either the child’s mother or the state court should first take legal action to establish paternity.
Other Custody Disputes
At times, custody disputes also arise between the unwed parents and the child’s grandparents, as the grandparents may take legal action to seek visitation rights with their grandchild. It is not uncommon for grandparents to petition the court for sole custody if they are already raising the grandchild.
Since unwed parents do not undergo a formal divorce proceeding when the relationship ends, they may opt to create a detailed and mutually beneficial agreement regarding both visitation rights and custody arrangements. It would be best to seek help from a professional to draft a legal document.
If you are in a situation where custody still needs to be determined, consult with a Colorado family law attorney as soon as possible. An experienced family law attorney from Goldman Law Firm experience and knowledge regarding state laws that apply to unmarried parents, grandparents’ rights, and all other issues pertaining to custody.