By Evan Compton, Divorce and Family Law Attorney
Ensuring you (and all of our clients) are confident in your custody and child support arrangement is one of the most important aspects of family law—and one of our biggest goals as a firm. For people who are raising a child with a partner outside of marriage, it can be quite daunting to determine parentage, parenting time, child support and decision-making power.
Whether you’re parting ways with your child’s other parent or were never in a relationship with them, it’s important to come to parenting agreements and ensure they’re protected by law.
What is parentage?
Parentage means that you are legally your child’s parent and that there is an established parent/child relationship. In Illinois, parentage is presumed if you give birth to a child or if your spouse gives birth to a child. In day-to-day life, it may not seem like having legal parentage matters—but it’s associated with critical obligations, rights and responsibilities.
How is parentage determined if I’m not married to my child’s other parent?
In non-marriage situations, parentage is presumed to be established in a few different ways:
- Having your name on your child’s birth certificate
- Signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) acknowledging that you’re the child’s father (which only applies to the father in a heterosexual couple)
- The Surrogacy Act
Most often, we see people establishing parentage in non-marriage situations through a birth certificate or a VAP.
If I’m separating from my child’s other parent, how can I make sure my child has what they need?
If you’re separating from your child’s parent, or if you were never together in a relationship, there are three main things you’ll likely want legally agreed upon:
- Parenting time, or how many days per month your child will spend with you. This should also include special considerations for holidays, vacations and other special events.
- Decision-making power, or who has authority around major choices for your child. This can include everything from which school they attend to which vaccinations they receive, and any other critical decisions.
- Child support and expenses, or how much financial support may need to be provided to one of the parents in order to maintain a similar quality of life in both homes. But it’s not just child support—there are many other expenses to be considered that go beyond a regular support obligation which include medical expenses and extracurricular activity expenses.
To determine these three things, you’ll need to file the relevant pleading with the court. Most of the time, the judge will send you to mediation right away in lieu of litigating, as mediation saves everyone from the time, money and emotional labor of litigation.
In Cook County, there are free mediation services, but they don’t provide services to determine child support fees—only parenting time and decision making power—which is why we suggest hiring an attorney.
When you work with our team to establish parenting time, decision-making power and child support, our first question will always be if attorney-assisted mediation is an option. This remains consistent regardless of whether you’re married to your child’s other parent. In most cases, when the two parents are committed to it, mediation is very successful, and no litigation is necessary.
Would parentage be easier if I were married?
Navigating a separation and making (legally-binding) parenting decisions is not vastly different within a marriage compared to a non-marriage situation. In many cases, a non-marriage situation is less complex because you don’t have to unravel shared property in the same way that a divorcing couple would.
Regardless of marital status, separation and parenting decisions often come with residual emotions and necessitate the same care and caution—for you, and for your kids. My colleagues and I at Stern Perkoski Mendez are committed to supporting you as you navigate this process and ensuring you all feel as comfortable as possible with the resolution.
Contact our Divorce and Family Law Firm in Evanston, Chicago, Lake Forest and Oakbrook Terrace
If you need legal support to ensure your children grow up in the best environment possible, contact our team. We can help you file the appropriate pleading, guide you through mediation, and advocate for you during litigation if necessary.