While it may be most common for those to choose to have a child to be married prior to conception, there are certainly parents who choose to have children while unmarried—whether those parents are in a romantic partnership or not. If parties are living separately—or choose to live separately at some point—then they will need to make a determination about custody of their children. Here’s what you should know about custody arrangements when a child’s parents are not married in Massachusetts—to learn more, reach out to Attorney Heather M. Ward directly today.

Unmarried Parents: Establishing Paternity

One of the first things that unmarried parents need to be aware of is the law concerning paternity, or legal fatherhood, in Massachusetts. While married fathers enjoy the privilege of having paternity automatically acknowledged when a child is born, unmarried fathers must sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form, which must also be signed by the child’s mother. If this form is not signed, then the father will not have any rights related to the child, including the right to seek custody and visitation with the child.

Note that if either parent does not want to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity, either parent can petition the court to establish paternity. The court may order a DNA test to prove the alleged father’s biological relationship with the child prior to issuing an order of paternity. 

Determining Child Custody and Parental Rights

So long as both parents have established legal parental status related to a child, then both will have full rights to pursue custody and full parental rights. In this regard, determining child custody and parental rights is no different for unmarried parents than it is for married parents. Parents will need to work together to create a parenting plan that outlines the parental responsibilities and time-sharing agreements for both parties. In the event that parents cannot reach an agreement, then they will need to go to court and a judge will make the ultimate determination. 

In terms of calculating a child support payment, the state of Massachusetts uses the Massachusetts Child Support Guideline Calculator. A judge can only vary from the formula in very specific circumstances. Again, it does not matter if parties are married or not when calculating these guidelines, so long as paternity has been established.

How Can a Family Law Attorney Help Me?

Being a parent is a lot of work, and a legal situation in which you need to establish parental rights or/and seek custody of your child can be extremely challenging. At the Law Office of Heather M. Ward, our experienced Massachusetts family law attorney can help you to understand your rights as an unmarried parent and will guide you in navigating the court system. To learn more, reach out to Attorney Heather M. Ward directly today by phone at (617) 903-8955 or online.