When unmarried parents split, custody poses extra challenges

On Behalf of | Aug 9, 2019 | Family Law |

Like everywhere else, couples in North Carolina often establish a household, share parenting responsibilities, set up joint accounts, and make retirement plans. And they might not marry.

If they separate, reasonably straightforward North Carolina laws guide how the couple can negotiate division of assets. But what about child custody, support, visitation and decisions about the child’s education, health, travels and everything else?

Seeking fairness, but for whom?

Such issues have come before North Carolina courts for as long as there’s been a North Carolina, if not before. Over the years, solutions to almost every possibility have been devised. Things generally can be worked out. The main question is, “Worked out for whom?”

The answer in North Carolina is clear and decisive. The child’s best interests are supposed to guide the court’s decisions. While the rules can be complicated and confusing, you can’t go wrong making reasonable arguments that respect the court’s power and, most of all, the child’s best interests.

Seeking the counsel and representation of attorneys who understand the judge’s priorities and the challenges faced by the court system will give you your best chance at a good outcome.

Paternity is usually key

If the couple is unmarried and fatherhood hasn’t been legally established, the mother will generally have sole physical and legal custody, including decision on who can and cannot visit the child.

Courts recognize exceptions, such as a mother who’s abandoned the child or is proven unfit. Sometimes the mother consents to relinquish custody or share it with someone who’s long known and cared for the child, such as a domestic partner, close friends, relatives, etc.

It’s an entirely different matter if the man’s paternity is established. Very often, an unmarried father is there at the birth and the mother agrees he should be named on the birth certificate. Later, the man and the mother can sign an affidavit attesting to his paternity.

Under certain conditions, either member of the couple might be able establish paternity through a trial court, which may order genetic testing.

And all of this presumes the man has not formally adopted the child.