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Alternative Family Structures and Family Law Issues

We spent a lot of time on this blog discussing Washington families dealing with marital dissolutions and life after a divorce, but what about families where the parents were never married and/or never intend to marry each other?  How does Washington family law affect these families?  This post discusses some of the issues that arise in families where marriage is not intended, desired, or included.

Many people assume that if a child is born outside of marriage, the baby was unplanned.  The reality is that now many people are choosing to have children outside of the traditional family structure.  When parents choose to have kids outside marriage they should know some of the laws that may affect their family structure.

Child Support.  Child support is an important issue whether you have the potential of being a parent paying support or the parent receiving support.  It may be that unmarried parents go to court soon after the child is born and ask that the court make a child support order.  After receiving the order, the paying parent pays, and the receiving parent receives child support.  However, in many cases things are not so straightforward.  In some cases, one parent contributes to the child by purchasing things the child needs or giving money to the child’s parent (this is especially likely if the parents are living together part-time or full-time).  This may work well for a while (or for the child’s whole life), but the contributing parent should know that it may become hard to prove any such contribution.  Without proof of contributions, the parent requesting child support may be able to receive back support for all the time the contributing parent was contributing to the child’s financial support.  If there is not a court order in place (and even if there is), it is usually in people’s best interest to pay any support in a way that creates an automatic trail of payments.  This can be done by having the other parent sign a receipt, paying by check and keeping copies of all payments or both.  Even just keeping a written record of cash withdrawals and payments may help.

Parenting Plan.  Many unmarried parents do not have a court-ordered parenting plan.  Instead, they just create a schedule week to week (or day to day).  This may work well for some families, but it is not always reliable.  Sometimes one parent feels like they are only allowed to see the child if they are in the other parent’s good favor.  It can be frustrating and sad for both that parent and the child to not know when they will see each other again.  Parenting plans can help create order and consistency for the child and the parents.  The court-ordered parenting plan will not change just because one of the parents is mad at the other.

Assets and Debts.  This issue is not as important to the relationship between parents and children, but it is in an important consideration for unmarried parents parenting together.  In many cases, people make agreements about assets and debts without understanding whether such agreements will be enforceable.  In many cases, couples make agreements about how they will pay for certain debts or who can keep certain assets, but then have a very difficult time proving that such an agreement was made.  It can be helpful to get these types of agreements in writing.

Parents having and/or raising kids outside of marriage should be aware of their legal rights and obligations to their children.  If you would like to speak with a Seattle family law attorney about your family structure, please contact us today.