Unmarried Parents and Child Support

In every state, parents are required to support their children. Therefore, parents are required to pay child support even if they were never married.  If one parent financially supports the child more than the other, then the non-custodial parent will have to pay child support. Amount of support is determined depends on how much each parent contributes to costs like health care, child care, and education, as well as general state guidelines.

Child support can be a complicated issue already, but there are special issues to consider when the parents are unmarried. Even if two parents of a child were never married, a spouse is still required to pay child support, since both legal parents are obligated to support their children. To understand who is required to pay child support in a case where the parents are unmarried, the first thing to do is to establish paternity.

Establishing Paternity

Establishing “who is the father,” or  paternity,  is important for determining if a father pays child support. A man could still be required to pay child support if he was never married to the mother but is determined to be the biological father. Also, a man could be required to pay child support if he is unmarried and not the biological father, if paternity is established. An unmarried man can be established at the father and required to pay child support if he is found to be one of the following types of parents:

  • Acknowledged father: A man is an acknowledged father when he is proved to be the biological father of a child of unmarried parents. An acknowledged father establishes paternity by either his own admission, or by agreement of the parents, and he must pay child support.
  • Alleged father: An alleged father, sometimes called an unwed father, is an unmarried man who impregnates a woman. If an alleged father admits to paternity, he will be obligated to pay child support, and also has the right to visitation and to seek custody.
  • Equitable parent: A parent can gain custody and be required to pay child support if they are not the biological or adoptive parent if they are determined to be an equitable parent. This is when a parent has a close relationship with the child, or a relationship that was encouraged by the biological parent. If equitable custody is granted to a parent, then the parent will be required to pay child support. This type of parenthood has become more prevalent as more states have legalized same-sex marriage.

Special Issues for Unmarried Parents and Child Support

If unmarried parents separate and do not get a court that  establishes child support for their specific situation, there are default provisions made for child support and child custody. It may be in your best interest to secure a court order that establishes these matters, since the default provisions are often not ideal for the father or the non-custodial parent. If an unmarried couple with children separates and does not get the court order, the default provisions are:

  • Time shared between a father and child is always established at 0 percent. The default percentage is set regardless of whether the father spends time with the child.
  • According to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, federal child support guidelines for payment for 0 percent time spent are automatically higher than state counterparts.Sometimes, that increase can be up to  $100 to $200 more per month. There is no requirement that federal and state child support levels must be the same.
  • Fathers who avoid paying child support are subject to legal prosecution by their local district attorney’s office.
  • A mother can change any type of visitation agreement at any time, except visitation agreements made by or subject to court order.