Unmarried couples with child custody issues are growing in numbers. A recent Pew Research Center survey shows that Millenials (ages 18 - 33) "lead all generations in the share of out-of wedlock births". In 2012, 47% of births to women in the Millenial generation were non-marital compared to 21 % among older women. Many parents do not remain together after the birth of a child, whether the split occurs months or years later.
Unmarried couples cannot file for divorce; however, in Rhode Island, we will file Complaint on behalf of an unmarried parent in order to resolve the issues of child custody, a parenting plan (who sees the child and when), medical insurance/co-pays and child support. We believe that no parent should suffer a loss of a parent-child relationship or support because the parties were not married.
Although in this type of proceeding there is no split of assets or debts like in a divorce, the court can address child related issues and enter court orders establishing both parents' rights and obligations concerning each child.
Sometimes, separated unwed parents enter into informal agreements about their children. There may be an informal schedule for each parent to have specific time with a child; there may be an informal agreement concerning child support. However, these informal agreements are not enforceable. For example without a court order, neither parent is precluded from moving to a distant part of the state or outside the State of Rhode Island. One parent may decide to make medical decisions or educational decisions without consulting the other parent. A parent can stop paying support.
To protect a parent from losing rights in regards to a child, it is best to have a court order that specifies all details of parenting and support.
If parties can reach a fair agreement on their own or through mediation (which service we provide), this should be memorialized by a court order. If there are changes in circumstances down the road, the court order may be modified to provide for the best interests of the child.