Co-Parenting: What are your Legal Rights as an Unmarried Parent?
Splitting up is hard. Ending a relationship and dividing the assets is a grueling process. But it does have a finite ending – no matter how long it takes.
Co-parenting, on the other hand, is not so finite. It’s an ongoing process that affects parents, children, and even extended family members. So, how do you make the process easier?
Leslie Akridge, Family Law Paralegal at Whitehurst, Blackburn & Warren believes that knowing your legal rights is a good start to a productive co-parenting situation.
“There are many misconceptions for parents about what actually gives them legal rights to their child,” she explains.
Let's talk through some common misconceptions regarding parental rights for unmarried couples – that is, couples who are not married at the time of a child’s birth. What rights does the father have, what can he do to secure his parental rights, and how can co-parenting resources help ease the logistical burdens of raising a child cooperatively?
1. Signing a birth certificate does not equal parental rights.
Many parents are unaware of what the law says about parental rights and that laws vary by state.
“Unfortunately, many fathers mistakenly believe that signing the birth certificate or any other paternity hospital forms establishes their parental rights to minor children,” says Akridge. “They also believe that signing these forms gives them any rights to visiting a minor child.”
However, the reality is that if a father has not filed an action for legitimation, or he is not married to the natural mother, then he has no rights to visitation.
2. Your children will not automatically be considered your heirs.
Parents often fail to consider what may happen to their children when they pass away because they are so caught up in the nuances of their current parental struggles. Proper legitimation of your children can ensure that “they can also inherit from you if you were to die,” says Akridge.
The Southern Judicial Circuit of Georgia, which include Brooks, Colquitt, Echols, Lowndes, and Thomas counties, addresses the legitimation process: “The law encourages fathers of children to legally recognize their children through the legitimation process… It gives the father and the child certain rights. Legitimation means that a child may inherit from the father and the father may inherit from the child.”
3. Paying child support does not guarantee parental rights.
Another misconception is when a father is ordered to pay child support through any court order. Fathers assume that action alone establishes paternity rights.
“Fathers think that child support and visitation rights go hand in hand, but in many situations, when a father is being denied visitation rights, he often stops paying his child support,” Akridge says.
“This can lead to further problems with contempt including: loss of driver’s license or revoked income tax returns. Many fathers don’t know what to do when they encounter other problems related to theirchild support, and they give up fighting for their parental rights. It is sad for both the father and the children.”
Advice for the Legitimation & Co-Parenting
Akridge strongly recommends hiring an attorney who can help establish visitation for you. He or she can help you determine your rights and properly legitimate your children.
“The legitimation process is beneficial so that your children can see you on a regular basiswhether or not you are paying child support,” she explains.
Rest assured, some families navigate the co-parenting process beautifully. Mobile friendly co-parenting apps can assist you with tasks such as streamlining communication and schedules. The list below highlights the top three co-parenting apps according to parent.com -- including some designed by divorced couples who sought to eliminate conflict and focus on raising children.
· WeParent – Designed for stress-free co-parenting, WeParent can coordinate custody schedules, facilitate document and expense sharing, and offers in-app messaging with transcripts.
· Cozi – This free app has shared calendar options for parents, grandparents, and babysitters with the bonus of photo sharing.
· FamCal – FamCal also has a free version with shared calendar capabilities. Additionally, it color- codes events based by family member. This app is ideal for families with multiple children who are involved in activities.
If you don’t know where to start in your co-parenting situation, let Leslie Akridge and the team of family law experts at Whitehurst, Blackburn & Warren help. We cover multiple areas of family law including child support and custody, legitimation, paternity issues, and third-party visitation rights.
Our team will fight for your family as if it were their own.Call (229) 226-2161 today to schedule your free no obligation consultation.