In California, the law assumes that two married persons are a child's legal parents, so parentage is automatically established in most cases. But for unmarried parents, parentage of their children needs to be established legally.
Married couples who separate can request custody orders through their divorce case. But when unmarried couples separate, one will need to initiate a Parentage action in family court. The procedure and paperwork are similar to a divorce but without the added marital issues such as asset/debt division and spousal support. You can request custody orders from the court through your Parentage case. This process could take months before you get custody orders so it is important to not delay if you need orders or think you might in the future. If both parents come to an agreement on custody then that agreement can be written up and signed and filed with the court in order to get custody orders that way.
Is it important to have formal custody orders if two separated parents are generally getting along? In most cases, yes. Sometimes you don't need them until you need them, and then you'll wish you had them. Until a legal relationship is established, one parent may try to prevent the other from seeing the child. One parent may do something that the other parent does not agree with such as moving away or enrolling them in a different school, etc. Or you might simply disagree on what type of schedule works best for your child. In all those cases, these issues would be prevented by having custody orders.
But getting formal custody orders doesn't necessarily need to involve animosity. Having crystal clear orders as to each parent's rights and responsibilities benefits both parties as well as your child/children. You will not have to worry about the other parent refusing you custody time because you have an enforceable order saying when you will each have the child/children. Plus, having two parents confirmed as the legal parents of a child could ensure that your child's financial needs are well provided for by allowing you to request child support from the other parent, plus ensure that your child is eligible for any survivorship benefits of both parents such as health insurance, inheritance, military benefits, wills, trusts, etc. This tends to be more important for fathers since it is more difficult to confirm parentage when you are not the one giving birth.
If you need to initiate a Parentage case or request custody orders through an existing one, the Law Office of Rochelle Binns is here to help. Contact us now to schedule your free 30-minute consultation!