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Unmarried parents and the importance of establishing paternity

In previous decades, women who had a baby out of wedlock were assumed to be young and poor. Today, many women and men are foregoing or delaying marriage, but not having children. Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal that more than 40 percent of U.S. births are to unmarried women. What's more, nearly 60 percent of these women are cohabitating with a significant other.

These figures prove that there has been a major societal shift in how many people in the U.S. view both marriage and parenthood. The rising birth rates to unmarried women also, however, have raised concerns about increased "instability and uncertainty for kids," as statistics show that "cohabitating parents are more likely to split up."

While unmarried parents who choose to break-up are sparred going through a lengthy and often costly divorce, child custody matters must still be determined and can often grow complex and contentious. For unmarried fathers, attempting to gain custody of a child can be an especially difficult and frustrating experience. This is especially true if the father failed to establish paternity upon a child's birth.

Unless paternity is established, a mother has sole child custody and a father has no legal rights to petition for visitation or custody. Additionally, barring a paternity determination, a mother has no legal right to petition for child support. It's advisable, therefore, that parents establish paternity as soon as a child is born.

Immediately following a child's birth, parents can acknowledge paternity by signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage and filing the form with the Registry of Vital Records. In cases where paternity is in dispute or where a couple splits and a father previously failed to establish paternity, a court order may be sought via the Department of Revenue after which time a DNA test is used to establish paternity. 

Every child deserves the right to know and receive financial support from both parents. As more unmarried women and men choose to have children with one or multiple partners, issues related to child custody and support will continue to grow increasingly complicated. Unmarried mothers and fathers in Massachusetts who are dealing with these types of issues can benefit from seeking the advice and assistance of a family law attorney.

Source: Massachusetts Department of Revenue, "Paternity Establishment," July 28, 2015

The Wall Street Journal, "U.S. Sees Rise in Unmarried Parents: Sociologists fret that more children risk losing out on the economic benefits of living in married households," Neil Shah, March 10, 2015

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