Custody arrangements for children in cases of unmarried parents can be a complicated and often contentious issue. Unlike married couples, unmarried parents do not have the same legal protections and presumptions as to custody and parenting time.
However, there are steps unmarried parents can take to ensure fair custody arrangements.
First and foremost, it is important to establish paternity. Without establishing paternity, a father has no legal rights to his child, and custody will automatically be awarded to the mother. Establishing paternity can be done through a DNA test, acknowledgment of paternity, or court order.
Once paternity is established, unmarried parents can approach custody arrangements in a similar fashion as those in a divorce. Illinois law allows both parents to have significant decision-making responsibilities regarding their child, and to establish a reasonable schedule of parenting time that fosters a relationship between the child and each parent.
Even without a formal court order, parents can come to a mutual agreement about custody and parenting time. This can be done through mediation or negotiation with the help of attorneys. If an agreement is reached, it is important to have it put into writing and signed by both parties to avoid future disputes.
If parents are unable to come to an agreement, they may need to go to court to have a judge make a decision. In court, the judge will consider the best interests of the child, which may include factors such as the child’s relationship with each parent, the stability of each parent’s home life, and the child’s wishes if they are of a sufficient age and maturity to express them.
It is important to note that custody arrangements can also be modified if circumstances change. For example, if one parent moves or if the child’s needs change, custody and parenting time schedules can be adjusted to better suit the new circumstances.
Overall, achieving fair custody arrangements for unmarried parents requires a legal perspective that takes into account the best interests of the child, the rights of both parents, and the unique circumstances of each case. By establishing paternity, coming to a mutual agreement or going to court, and being open to modification in the future, unmarried parents can create a parenting plan that is fair, equitable, and in the best interests of their child.