Parents who are unmarried are still parents and have the same parental rights and obligations to their children as a married or divorced couple would. That’s because child support obligations do not depend upon the legal relationship of the parents – instead, they depend upon the relationship between the parent and the child. Parents are expected to provide for the basic needs of their children, such as food, clothing, living expenses, education, medical care and the like, whether they are married or not. Unmarried parents are also entitled to make decisions for their children including religious training, educational matters and other issues that are involved in raising a child.
If an unmarried mother seeks child support, the first step would be to establish legal paternity – legally establishing the father of the child. This requires filing documents in court and is typically accomplished through DNA testing which can be done voluntarily with the alleged father’s consent. If he does not consent, the mother can petition the court to order the putative father to submit to testing.
Once paternity has been established, the father can then choose to pay child support and request visitation rights or he can choose to terminate his parental rights. In some cases, the termination of rights would also end the obligation for child support, especially if the mother has remarried and her new husband wishes to adopt the child. Some courts will also allow the mother to agree that she no longer needs the financial support. However, there are just as many cases where the father is allowed to terminate his rights but must continue to pay support for the child. Remember, the court always uses the “best interest of the child” standard and if it is deemed that the financial support is needed, then the father is responsible until the court says otherwise.
If the father chooses to keep his parental rights, the court will issue an order to address child support, custody and visitation arrangements.
In the event that paternity can’t or hasn’t been established, the court will not order the alleged father to pay child support. He can however, voluntarily choose to accept the responsibility.