What happens when unmarried parents break up?

Photo of attorney Melinda L. Singer

Most people know that custody battles are one of the hardest parts of modern divorce. What people often don’t realize is that parents don’t have to get married for their breakups to cause a custody dispute.

New Jersey recognizes the parental rights of unmarried parents just like they support the rights of married parents. Marital status has no bearing on how important a parental relationship is to developing children.

If you share children with a romantic partner and the relationship has come to an end, the chances are good that you will have to reach a co-parenting or custody agreement in the near future.

Unmarried custody claims require an extra step

When a married woman has a child, her husband is the presumptive father of the child. His name will be on the birth certificate, and he will have legal responsibility for the child unless he eventually contests his paternity. Splitting custody is also an automatic step in the standard divorce process with children in New Jersey.

Many unmarried fathers are already on the birth certificate for their child and acknowledged as a parent. For them, the only necessary step after a break-up will be to request shared custody or parenting time time. Since the courts don’t oversee a break-up of a non-married couple, the potential exists for the couple to set terms by working together.

For those who are not on the birth certificate, establishing paternity either with the cooperation of the child’s mother or through genetic testing via the courts is necessary to request shared parenting time. If the mother wants to deny access, legal custody proceedings may be the only way to gain access to a child.

Both parents are important to the health and happiness of a child

During a difficult break-up, former partners often try to sever their ties to one another as quickly and completely as possible. When a couple shares a child, that is no longer an option. Children need the involvement and support of both parents to thrive.

Couples going through a contentious breakup should do their best to keep the focus on the children and accept the reality that their ex will likely continue to play a role in their family through shared parental responsibilities in the future.

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