Families come in all shapes and sizes. More and more these days, children and families are challenged with adjusting to transitions. According to the US Census Bureau, about half of all first marriages end in divorce and nearly one million children are affected each year by divorce. During the 2000s, single parent families rose to an all-time high of nearly 40%*.
NYS Laws vary regarding single and divorced parent families. What does that mean and what rights do single or divorced parents have? Custody issues can be complicated when parents of a child were never or are no longer married. Issues affecting single or divorced parents include:
Custody and Visitation
When parents were never legally married, there is no assumption of paternity for single fathers. If a single father wants sole or joint custody of his child, he must file a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Custody and/or take a DNA test. This makes it possible for him to pursue sole or shared custody of the child. It will also make him financially responsible for this child, regardless of whether or not custody and visitation is granted.
When a child is adopted, both parents will need to show proof of their standing in their child’s life if the relationship ends and both want custody and/or visitation. As long as both parents played a significant role in the care and upbringing of the adopted child prior to the separation or divorce, it will be treated similarly to if the child were biologically their own. For Gay and Lesbian couples, it is imperative that both parents have been legally recognized by a second parent adoption and/or joint adoption.
When parents were married and are divorcing, the custody and visitation agreement is part of the divorce proceedings. If parents are able to work out a custody and visitation arrangement on their own, the courts just need to approve this. If they are unable to agree on an arrangement, the court will make these decisions based on what it feels is in the best interests of the child.
Children born to a married couple are deemed the child of those parents. This premise has yet to be put to the test for Lesbian couples. For an unmarried parent, in order for a parent to receive child support for the care of a child, he or she must prove the other parent is responsible for the child. This is done either through paternity testing or by demonstrating a parent’s role in the adoption of the child.
Best Interest of the Child
Above all else, regardless of the relationship of parents, the best interest of the child will be the standard of review used by the Courts. When parents are able to do this on their own, the court simply oversees their efforts and ensures the child is protected. If parents are unable to agree on the future of their child, family court will make a decision based on the needs and desires of the child. The wishes of the child however are not determinative and often not truly considered unless the child is fourteen or older.
If you are the parent of a child and were never married to his or her mother or father, or you are in the process of a divorce, it is important to work with an experienced family law attorney. This ensures your role in your child’s life is protected, especially if you are part of a non-traditional family.
If you need help in this area or have questions feel free contact attorney Concetta Spirio at 631-277-8844