It is more common now than ever in the past for couples to live together and have children without getting married. More and more people see marriage as little more than a state-issued piece of paper recognizing their union, so they don't bother with it. There can be some benefits to remaining unmarried, such as ease of ending the relationship and maintaining separate assets. You also don't incur the sometimes staggering costs associated with a wedding.
However, there are potential complications to separating if you have children together. In California, if you have kids while married, the state simply assumes the husband is the father. When you aren't married, however, there may be additional steps required if you want to seek child support, obtain visitation or share custody of your children.
Establishing paternity is an important first step
Whether you are the father or mother of the children involved, proving paternity is a critical step to enforcing your rights as a parent. The simplest way to do this is for the father and mother to execute documents legally acknowledging paternity. This form, called a Declaration of Paternity, allows both parents to legally claim their relationship with the child.
If both parents sign this form at the time of birth, the father's name will appear on the birth certificate. You also have the right to execute this form at a later time. In that case, you have to sign the document at a local child support agency, registrar of births, local superior court or a Welfare office. If either parent contests paternity, you can ask either your local child support agency or the California family courts to help establish parentage.
Even if you weren't married, your children deserve support
If you are the custodial parent of the children, you already likely know the expense involved in caring for your children. Child support helps ensure that you can provide a decent standard of living, including housing, food, clothing, school supplies and other necessities. While you may worry about the complications of visitation or shared custody, it is usually in the best interests of your children to remain close with both parents, regardless of whether or not they were married.
If your ex has custody of your children, you may feel upset about paying child support. It's important to realize that paying isn't about your relationship with the other parent, it's about the best interests of your children. Child support can help ensure they receive the things they need for a healthy, happy childhood and adolescence. Establishing paternity and paying child support shows your children that you love them and want the best for their lives and futures.