How Is Child Custody Established for Unmarried Couples?
Child custody always has the potential to become an extremely complex issue. However, when parents are not married, it can become even more complicated. While married couples will make decisions about child custody as part of their divorce, unwed couples may need to take legal action to address issues related to their children. In some cases, paternity will need to be established before decisions can be made about the allocation of parental responsibilities and parenting time.
Establishing Paternity in Illinois
In Illinois, married spouses are presumed to be the parents of any children born during the marriage, unless there is documentation that says otherwise. However, when the parents of a child are not married, the same assumption is not made. In the case of unwed parents, the paternity of the father must be established. There are three ways to do this:
- Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity: If both parents agree on the paternity of the child, they can both complete and sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity.
- Administrative Paternity Order: If the parents cannot agree, the State of Illinois’ Department of Healthcare and Family Services’ Child Support Services can issue an Administrative Paternity Order to establish paternity.
- Order of Paternity: The last method of establishing paternity is to appear in court and have a judge issue an order of paternity.
An Administrative Paternity Order and an Order of Paternity are typically only required if the father disputes that he is the biological father of the child. In these cases, DNA testing will usually be used to confirm that a presumed father is in fact the child’s biological father.
Establishing Child Custody for Unwed Parents
Once paternity is established, the parents may determine how they will share child custody. Just like married couples, unwed couples can establish child custody either by coming to an agreement on their own, through mediation, or by going through litigation in court. If the case needs to be decided in the courtroom, a judge will take a number of factors into consideration when determining what is in the child’s best interests. These include:
- The relationship between each parent and the child
- The capability of each parent to raise a child
- The relationship between the child and the extended family of each parent
- The history of either parent being the primary caregiver for the child
- When the child is of an appropriate age to voice a mature opinion, the preferences of the child
- Any history of substance abuse or domestic violence by either parent or any member of the household they live in
A judge will try to grant reasonable amounts of parenting time to each parent, although in many cases, one parent will be awarded more time than the other. In extreme cases where children may be at risk of harm when in the care of a parent, supervised visitation may be required in which the other parent or a social worker is present.
Contact Our Rolling Meadows Family Law Attorney
If you have children with an unmarried partner, issues related to the custody of your children have the potential to become extremely complicated. Skilled Hoffman Estates child custody lawyer Nicholas W. Richardson can help you determine the best ways to resolve disagreements with your ex-partner while protecting your children's best interests. Call our office at 847.873.6741 to schedule a free consultation today.