Skip to main content

UnMarried with Children - Who is a Legal Parent? Part 3

Unmarried mothers in Massachusetts are presumed to be the legal and physical custodian of a child without going to court.  Unmarried fathers in Massachusetts are not provided with any legal or physical custody rights without going to court, unless they are added to the Birth Certificate at the time of the child's birth.  This is despite the fact that a child support obligation can begin to accrue upon the birth of the child even if the father is unaware of their existence or not involved in the child's life.

The Birth Certificate is completed with information provided by the mother of the baby. If she is unmarried, then she can request the father's name be included. In order to include the father's name he must sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity and then his name will appear on the birth certificate.

Signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement has significant legal ramifications. Even if a father is not the biological father, signing the Voluntary Acknowledgement could make him the legal father, with potential rights and obligations for the child's entire childhood until emancipation.

If a mother or father refuses to sign the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity, then paternity can only be established by court action and the mother alone will appear on the birth certificate until there is an order of the court which will be addressed in our next post.

Of course, whether established in court or voluntarily, legal parentage of a child is only step 1.  Once the court or two parents have recognized the legal rights and obligations of the father, the parents need to define how they will co-parent and support the child.  Click here for more information on those next steps.

Previous Post: Married with Children - Who is a Legal Parent? Part 2

Next Post: 99.9% Probability of Paternity - Who is a Legal Parent? Part 4

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What is the purpose of the Divorce Nisi waiting period?

In Massachusetts the statutory waiting period after a Judgment of Divorce and before the divorce becomes final (or absolute) is called the Nisi period. After a divorce case settles or goes to trial, a Judgment of Divorce Nisi will issue and it will become Absolute after a further ninety (90) days.

This waiting period serves the purpose of allowing parties to change their mind before the divorce becomes final. If the Judgment of Divorce Nisi has issued but not become final yet, and you and your spouse decide you don't want to get divorced, then you can file a Motion to Dismiss and the Judgment will be undone. Although many of my clients who are getting divorced think the idea of getting back together with their ex sounds crazy, I have had cases where this happened.

In addition to offering a grace period to change your mind, the Nisi period has three other legal effects:

1. The most obvious effect of the waiting period is that you cannot remarry during the Nisi period, because…

Does a Criminal Record affect Child Custody?

If one of the parents in a custody case has a criminal record, the types of crimes on their record could have an effect on their chances of obtaining custody. In custody cases the issue is always going to come down to whether or not the best interests of the child might be affected.

In the most extreme case, in which one parent has been convicted of first degree murder of the other parent, the law specifically prohibits visitation with the children until they are of a suitable age to assent.

Similarly, but to a less serious degree, in making custody and visitation determinations the court will consider crimes that would cause one to question the fitness of a parent. These types of crimes would obviously include any violent crime convictions which could call into question whether the children would be in danger around a parent who has shown themselves to resort to violence when faced with conflict. In addition, drug and alcohol abuse offenses would call into question a parent'…

The Questions that Lawyers and Mediators aren't asking but should: Let's talk about Pronouns

I recently had the opportunity to train with two of the most prominent mediators in Massachusetts: John Fiske and Diane Neumann. Each time they run a training, John and Diane share what they think is the most important question for a client to answer to have an effective mediation. John says that he thought the most important question is "What do I want?" But then he will tell you, with a knowing smile, that Diane disagreed with him and she would say that the most important question for a client to answer is "Who am I?"

I agree with Diane. The best lawyers and mediators ask their clients not just about what they want, but also deep questions about the clients' identity, goals, and values in order to help the clients resolve conflict in the most effective way possible. Despite knowing this, we often fail to ask clients the simplest questions when we first meet them or have them fill out an intake. We fail to give them an opportunity to answer the question “Who …