Are you parenting without a license?

Are you parenting without…
Often adults are committed to raising a child, but not committed to each other. If the parents are not married, do they have equal legal rights? Watch this video and give us a call if you would like to take steps to secure your parental interests.

Video Transcription

Hi, my name is Stephanie Brinkley. I'm with the Brinkley Law Firm in Charleston, South Carolina, where I am a fertility and family law attorney. Today, I'm asking the question, are you parenting without a license? Often, children and parenthood are planned for, but sometimes they're an unexpected benefit. It's not unusual in today's world for a party or parties to be committed to raising a child together, but not in a committed relationship or a marriage. So if the child is born out of wedlock or without a marriage license, do the parents have equal rights? The answer is it depends.

In South Carolina, an unwed mother has absolute sole legal and physical custody of her child. Why do fathers not have equal rights? Well, in South Carolina, it takes biology plus action for a father to assert his parental rights. This can be done either through the courts or mutually between the parties. If the parents are cooperative, the best thing they can do is enter into a co-parenting agreement. A co-parenting agreement is a way to establish child support. You can establish visitation. You can establish custody. You can even establish health insurance coverage for the child. And the best thing about a co-parenting agreement is on the issue of visitation, you can get creative. You can think outside the box. You can take into consideration the age and the needs of the child. You can also take into consideration the parent's working schedules and make sure that when coming up with a co-parenting schedule, the parties work together for the benefit of the child.

This is more than you'll get from a family court judge who will just treat your case like any other. Now, the most important thing about a co-parenting agreement is you need to get it filed with the court. That way you have the enforcement powers of the court if someone's not holding up to their terms of the agreement, but still it's a great option and you can do it without having to file a court action. Alternatively, if you cannot cooperate with the other parent and enter into an agreement, the alternative for the father is to file an action for paternity to establish his role as the legal father, to establish visitation and custody. This will end up costing the parties thousands of dollars in litigation money, that should be spent on the child.

Many fathers mistakenly believe that if a mother goes through child support enforcement to establish child support payments, that the father automatically gets visitation rights. This is incorrect. While the establishment of child support is a legal finding of paternity, it does not also convert a right of visitation for the father. The father must take it one step forward and either enter into a co-parenting agreement with the mother or file an action through the court for visitation.

So why is a co-parenting agreement a good option? Well, for birth mothers, you can establish child support without having to go to court. You can establish a visitation schedule that you can have some control over. You have input on when the visitation is going to take place, make sure that it's appropriate for the age and needs of your child, and have a routine schedule so you can plan your life around this co-parenting arrangement.

For birth fathers, the benefit is you have security in knowing that you're going to play an active role in your child's life. You also get the benefit of knowing when you're going to see your child. How long will you see them? You manage your expectations better without having to constantly negotiate for time. This solid foundation will give your child a good comfort zone to see that the parents are working together. It gives them a good emotional foundation. And that's exactly what the family court wants for a child born from your relationship.

If you would like to learn more about establishing your parental rights, whether it be through a co-parenting agreement or through the courts, please call our office and schedule a consultation. Your child deserves the best from both parents. So let's make sure that they get it.