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Child Support Considerations for Unmarried Parents



When it comes to determining child support arrangements, unmarried parents have some unique considerations to keep in mind. Already-complex issues like visitation rights, paternity and time shared between a father and child become more problematic than more "traditional" cases.

Unmarried Parents Face Same Child Support Obligations

Non-custodial parents, regardless of marital status, are required to pay child support to their custodial parent counterparts until their minor children reach age 18. If, at age 18, the child is an unmarried, full-time high school student, then the child support responsibility resumes until the minor child reaches age 19 or completes her senior year of high school, whichever event occurs first.

Partners in a common law relationship may feel they are similar to married couples. However, such couples do not benefit from core legal protections afforded to married spouses. Divorce laws do not apply to such relationships, even when children are born into the relationship.

Unmarried Parents Lack Key Protections

The implications of not having these legal protections are huge. For instance, just because a mother has provided childcare for an infant from birth does not ensure that she will have visitation rights regarding that child after separation from the child's father.

The issue of paternity is no longer assumed outside of marriage. Even when a man is named on a child's birth certificate as the father, there is no presumption of his paternity when the mother and father are not married to one another.

When an unmarried mother seeks to obtain child support, she must first legally establish paternity. The child's father can comply voluntarily, or the mother must file suit to establish paternity through DNA or genetic testing. In involuntary cases, the court orders the father to submit to genetic testing and if paternity is established, the court will enter a child support order requiring that father to make support payments, just as in the typical divorce.

Unmarried Fathers Face Harsh Support Defaults

When unmarried parents separate from one another without first securing a court order as to child custody and support, there are certain default provisions made with regard to the father's rights and responsibilities in child custody and support matters. In the event of no court order and no child support hearing having been conducted, the legal system's default provisions dictate the following:

  • Time shared between a father and child is established at 0 percent. This default percentage is set regardless of whether the father spends time with the child.
  • Federal child support guidelines for payment for 0 percent time spent are automatically higher than state counterparts. Often, that increase is $100 to $200 more per month. There is no requirement that federal and state child support levels must be the same.
  • Fathers who avoid paying child support are subject to legal prosecution by their local district attorney's office (or the functional equivalent in their jurisdictions).
  • A mother can change any type of visitation agreement at any time, except visitation agreements made by or subject to court order.