Custody Without Marriage: What You Need to Know

Not every couple who has children together wants to get married. Most of the time, this arrangement can be facilitated without too much complication, with both parents in the same home and the children getting the benefit of a complete family. However, what happens if the couple breaks up, or there is an issue that requires custody information to be discussed? After all, parents do not stop being parents just because they were never married.  

In Utah, there are several ways to view child custody when parents have not married. Let’s examine a few of the legal stipulations and review ways for custody plans to benefit everyone involved.

How Is Custody Handled?

Child custody in Utah begins with establishing paternity so that the father has the opportunity to receive equal rights. There are several ways to do this, with the most common one being the completion of a Declaration of Paternity. When both parents sign this form, it creates a legal basis for shared custody should the couple part ways in the future.

There are two types of custody when it comes to Utah law: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody pertains to where the children live and spend their time. Legal custody is more complex, and has to do with decisions about the child’s well-being, like school or medical issues. Despite parents of a child being in a relationship or not, Utah views child custody with unmarried parents in the same way it views custody with divorced parents—assuming paternity has been legally established (maternity is automatically established at birth for obvious reasons).

What It Looks Like In Everyday Life

If a couple is still together while they raise their children, they share equal custody. Plans for the child are discussed and decided upon just like with any married couple. Each parent is entitled to the same physical and legal custody rights as the other.

When the children’s parents are no longer together, a custody plan needs to be put into place. It is in each parent’s best interest to establish a custody order with the court, even it it is by stipulation. That way, if conflict arises or one parent is unfit to provide care, an enforceable order is in place that the parents can rely upon.  If parents don’t establish a custody order with the Court when they separate and conflict arises, the parents are left in a situation of uncertainty with no ability to enforce any prior agreements that were made between the parents.

Utah courts may also need to enforce the payment of child support if one parent has sole custody and the other is not willingly making their payments. Again just like with a divorced couple, the courts will treat an unmarried set of parents much in the same way.

If you are concerned about the custody of your children and aren’t sure of your rights, contact Topham Family Law today. We will work with you to ensure the best interests of you and your children—whether you are married to their other parent or not.

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Written by Jaime Topham