Tips for Unmarried Parents who Want to Raise Children Together

Name on Birth Certificate

When the names of both unmarried parents appear on the birth certificate, it is evidence that they are the legal parents of the child. Legal parents have certain rights and obligations such as custodial and visitation rights and support obligations. If the man and woman are married when the child is born, the legal presumption is that the man is the father of the child. In case of unmarried couples, there is no such legal presumption. In most states, the unmarried father must sign an affidavit acknowledging paternity. To protect your interest, ensure that you and your partner sign and notarize written declaration of paternity.

You can check with your state’s Vital Statistics bureau to know more about paternity affidavits and birth certificates.

Child’s last name

In most states, any name can be inserted on the birth certificate of the child including the first, middle and last names. The child does not have to take the names of both parents but can take the name of one parent or the names of both. It is for the parents to decide. Some parents choose the last name of one parent as the middle name of the child and the last name of the other parent as the last name of the child. You can amend the birth certificate by contacting the Vital Statistics Bureau of your state.

Example: Boris Cash and Martina Edwards, are an unmarried couple living together in San Francisco and have a child together. They decide to name the child Tom Edwards Cash. Two years later, they have another child whom they name Pam Cash Edwards. Two years down the line they decide that both their children should have the same last names. So they visit the California Bureau of Vital Statistics and amend Pam’s birth certificate to change her name to Pam Edwards Cash. This amendment does not affect or alter the parental rights or status of Boris and Martina. They continue to remain on the birth certificate as the birth parents.

Government benefits

Legal and biological children are eligible for the government benefits like social security, pension, etc. Even if your name does not appear on your child’s birth certificate, your child may still qualify for the benefits but will have to deal with the issue of proving paternity. Birth certificates and paternity affidavits made at the time of birth are the best proof of paternity.


In most states, the law allows unmarried couples to adopt children but there is a prejudice against unmarried couples wanting to adopt. Often the adoption agency and/or the government agency will require you to prove that your home environment is stable enough to raise children. If you are an unmarried couple wanting to adopt a child, speak to an experienced attorney.

If you adopt an child, you and your partner will be the child’s legal parents with equal rights and obligations to the child. In case of separation the partners can seek child custody, child support and visitation rights.

Second Parent adoption

Second parent adoption is similar to step parent adoption. In step parent adoption, you adopt the biological child of your spouse while in second parent adoption, you adopt the biological child of your partner. In some states, even same sex partners can adopt his or her partner’s biological child.

While courts favor step parent adoption, second parent adoption is looked upon less favorably by courts. The consent of the other birth parent is a legal requirement for a step parent adoption, The consent is however not required in cases where the parental rights of the other birth parent have been terminated for neglect, abandonment, unfitness, non-payment of child support or for any other reason. Generally second parent adoptions will not be approved unless:

• There is consent of both legal parents
• The other parent is dead
• The other parent is declared unfit by a court of law
• The child has been abandoned by the other parent

The social services will review the circumstances and decide if the other parent is unfit or whether the child has been abandoned.

If the adoption is approved, the adoptive parents become the legal parents of the child with the same rights and obligations as the biological parents.

Claiming Children as Dependents on Tax Returns

In case of unmarried parents, only one parent can claim the children as dependents for tax purposes. Either parent can claim the exemption provided he or she supports the child. Ideally the parent with the higher income should claim the credit as it will allow a bigger tax break. You can your partner can then split the tax return.

A live-in non-parent

When someone who lives with the child and acts like the child’s parent when it comes to medical decisions and education of the child, it can raise a few issues. In such cases, the authority of the person to take decisions on behalf of the child will depend on many factors.

• When the other legal parent has joint legal custody, that parent will have priority over the non-parent but the non-parent can be named as the emergency contact on important records.

• Schools will only accept directions and consent from the child’s legal guardians. A non-parent will generally not qualify as the legal guardian if he or she is not married to the legal parent of the child.

• Schools will allow a nonparent to pick up the child from the school if a legal parent asked the school to do so. To know more about the exact procedure, please contact the school authorities.

Break Up

Legal parents whether biological or adoptive have the right to claim custody and support. When one parent gets custody, he or she cannot prevent the other from enforcing visitation rights. The court can terminate the parental rights of a parent if that parent fails in fulfilling his or parental duties. The parent who does not get custody must remain involved in the life of the child through child support and visitation.

An unmarried partner who is not the legal parent of the child cannot claim custody or visitation rights. However unmarried partners are free to enter into agreements on what role they will play in the child’s life in case they split. In case there is no such agreement, the nonparent will have to move the courts to get access to the child. If it is in the best interest of the child to allow the nonparent access to the child, the courts in most states will generally do so. Please check with your state laws.

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