Starting a Family Before Marriage: What You Need to Know Legally

Marriage isn’t for everyone. Some people are content just being in a committed long-term relationship that isn’t formalized by a wedding and the legalities that accompany it. However, there are some cases where those legalities are useful for protecting the rights of the individuals involved, and one of these instances is when children are involved. There are several reasons it’s important for unmarried parents to understand the legal implications of having a child outside of wedlock if the relationship breaks down.

5 Legal Aspects of Starting a Family Before Marriage

1. Parental Responsibility

In most cases, parental responsibility is assigned to the parents whose names are on the child’s birth certificate. In a situation where an unmarried couple has a child, the unmarried mother’s name is automatically added. The second parent’s name can be added or a legal petition can be filed to add the second parent after the fact.

Parental responsibility gives parents the right to make important decisions about their child’s life, such as where they live, how medical issues are handled, and what kind of education they will receive. It also safeguards the child in the event that one parent passes away while they are still a minor. Without documentation stating that the surviving parent is a parent to the child, the surviving parent may have some considerable difficulties in assuming responsibility for that child. If both parents in an unmarried relationship wish to have parental responsibility for any children they share, both of their names should be included on birth certificates.

2. Cohabitating & the Right to the Family Home

If an unmarried couple separates and only one name is on the deed or rental agreement of the family home, the other partner has no automatic legal right to remain on the property. This could potentially result in the other parent and their children becoming homeless.

This isn’t the case when the parents are married. The law protects the rights of married spouses to property. Unmarried parents who cohabitate with no intention of marrying in the near future should ensure that property deeds or rental agreements are held jointly and written agreements are made about how the property would be divided in the event of their separation.

3. Financial Responsibility

In a healthy and committed relationship, both parents will likely provide financial support without question. However, if the relationship breaks down, one can leave their ex with full financial responsibility for their own expenses and, at least temporarily, responsibility for the care and maintenance of their children. A court case establishing the other person’s paternity and child support obligations will need to be initiated.

4. Inheritance Planning

An individual who is unmarried needs a will to guarantee that assets and parental responsibility will pass to their partner or desired beneficiary in the event of their death. Without a will, their estate and responsibility for their child will pass through probate and may go to an undesired member of the deceased’s family. An unmarried partner does not have automatic rights to make a claim on the deceased’s estate.

5. Sharing Parental Responsibilities

An unmarried couple is just as capable of making childcare choices and enacting their parental responsibilities as a married couple would be. However, if a married couple divorces, childcare decisions and a co-parenting plan are determined and legally enforced. This isn’t the case when the parents had never married. In this instance, if an amicable agreement cannot be reached informally, legal advice is needed to develop an appropriate agreement and will.

If you’re in a happily unmarried relationship and ready to start a family, the safest legal path to take is to consult an experienced attorney. The team of the Law Office of Dorene A. Kuffer knows just how to help you make sure both parents have legal guardianship over their shared children, as well as knowledge of estate planning and general family law matters. Learn more by contacting our office today so you can get back to planning your new family.