Understanding Child Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents in Oregon
When a child’s parents are unmarried, the way in which they handle child custody issues after a break-up can be different than they would if they had been spouses. Couples who go through a divorce have a substantial amount of legal issues to sort out, child custody being only one of them; however, for parents who are unmarried, their separation will likely only require a few legal arrangements, the most significant being child custody.
It is important to establish a legally-binding child custody plan, even if you and your co-parent are on good terms, because it helps cement your arrangement and protect your interests and those of your child. Even if you are on good terms now, that could change, and if your arrangement isn’t legally sound, it could spell parenting trouble for you down the road.
If you are unmarried and have kids, then make sure you know how to go about handling child custody issues and how certain Oregon laws might apply differently to unwed parents.
What Custody Rights Do Unmarried Parents Have?
If the parents are unmarried but have paternity established, both will generally have equal custody rights. In fact, Oregon courts almost always favor arrangements where the child can have both parents playing active roles in their life, but will always put the child’s best interests first.
If paternity has not been established and no custody order is in place, the mother retains legal custody while the father does not have custody or parenting time rights.
Unmarried Fathers' Rights in Oregon
Unmarried fathers are not automatically granted parental rights. Paternity must be established, either by the mother putting his name on the birth certificate at the time of the child's birth, or by filing a paternity action. Once paternity is established, an unmarried father has the right to pursue custody and visitation.
How Unmarried Mothers Can Protect Their Parental Rights
For mothers, establishing paternity might also be one of the most important steps in a legal issue. If a mother wants to receive child support from the child’s father, it must be proved that the man she wishes to receive support from is indeed the father. To do this, the mother must file a paternity action. Once approved, the father will not only have rights to pursue custody or visitation, but both parents will also be held legally responsible for the welfare of the child. In other words, the father can now spend time with his child, by law, but must also provide his child with the necessary financial support.
Again, in Oregon, the rights of the mother and the father are considered equal. As long as paternity is established, the father is entitled to the same rights to custody, visitation, and child support as the mother. The only instance in which this may not be true is in cases of domestic abuse or if the court deems either parent unfit or dangerous, in which case he or she may be kept away from their child for the child’s safety.
Protecting Your Parental Rights
If you are dealing with a child custody issue as an unmarried parent, make sure you have an experienced legal advocate on your side. Oregon custody laws for unmarried parents can be complicated, but the help of a skilled attorney can make the legal process to obtain paternal rights, custody rights, visitation rights, or child support much simpler.
Contact McKinley Irvin at our Oregon office to discuss your child custody or family law issue.