Co-Parenting for Never Married Parents

Not all co-parents in New Mexico have been through a divorce because some couples chose not to get married. Never-married parents, however, still face challenges similar to those of parents who are going through a divorce, with some additional issues.
Determining what the parenting responsibilities are in a legal sense can be more complicated for parents who never married. If you’re in this situation, understanding your rights is crucial to navigating this process, so consider the common questions below.

Do We Have to Prove Paternity in Court?

When a child is born to an unmarried couple, the mother’s name is entered on the birth certificate automatically. The father’s name may be on there as well, and if his name is there, this is evidence that is considered to determine if he is the legal parent.  The law sets out numerous ways a parent can obtain legal custody rights. One way in New Mexico is the father can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity and file it with the state’s health department to have his name added to the child’s birth certificate if he was not listed on it when the original paperwork was filled out shortly after the child’s birth. An experienced family law attorney can advise you of the other ways to prove paternity.

What Happens After Paternity Is Established?

Just as married parents would, the next step for never-married parents who are working through custody is to create their parenting plan. This plans spells out child support, the parenting schedule and other matters that concern the child. You can work this out with your co-parent with the help of your family law attorney and neutral third parties, such as a mediator, if necessary.
If you can’t work out an agreement on your own or with the help of a third party, you may have to have the court decide for you. It’s especially important to have the help of an experienced family law attorney in this situation, as you will not be making the final decisions about your child on your own.

What Is in the Parenting Plan?

The parenting plan for never-married parents should address the same key issues a plan made by married parents would. At the very least, keep the following areas in mind as yours is being created.
•       Think of your child when you handle the shared parenting time schedule. New Mexico prefers that both parents have plenty of time with their child in most situations, so try to create a rotation that lets your child spend time with both parents on a regular basis. Don’t forget to make decisions about special events as well, such as school breaks, birthdays and holidays.
•       Spell out how payments, reimbursements and other shared expenses will be handled between the two of you. Document how child-related expenses and money transferred between you and your former partner will be addressed. Having clear guidelines for the financial responsibilities each of you have for your child will help keep disputes to a minimum.
•       Decide how you will handle big decisions that concern your child. When you both have legal custody—the right to make major decisions for the child such as those concerning health, education and religion—you will want to have a process in place for making these types of choices. Choose a solid method of communication and make sure the steps you and your co-parent decide on are detailed in your plan.
When never-married parents decide to end their relationship, there are some additional issues that married parents won’t face, such as proving paternity. However, married and never-married parents alike should still have the same goal as they separate: reaching a parenting plan that is designed to favor the well-being of their child and will help everyone move forward.