Mediation for Unmarried Parents
Like parents who are married, unmarried parents have to come together to make decisions about their children. When it becomes difficult for two people to agree on how a child should be raised, it’s almost always beneficial to turn to mediation.
What Are Your Rights as Unmarried Parents under Massachusetts Law?
The children of unmarried parents have the same rights under Massachusetts law as those whose parents are married. Our law system dictates that the child’s best interests always be the focus of any legal decisions. However, there are some differences for unmarried parents compared to married parents.
Under Massachusetts law, unmarried mothers have the presumption of legal and physical custody of the child unless a court rules otherwise in the matter. That is, fathers are not given any legal custody rights automatically. To obtain rights, court action must occur. This does not mean a full-blown legal battle. Mediation can be used to resolve disputes and to create a parenting plan. Also, there is no automatic requirement for fathers to pay child support. There is no parenting plan that gives fathers the right to custody or time with the child either.
However, it’s important to know that this does not mean unmarried fathers are unable to obtain custody or have no responsibility to pay child support. Once the case goes to court or mediation, a father’s rights are legally defined. And, the father may be required to pay child support for the time that’s accrued since the child’s birth. The court also states that this requirement to pay back child support applies even if the father did not know of the child’s existence at the time of his or her birth.
Massachusetts child custody law legalities can be very complex. However, both mothers and fathers are given the ability to provide for the child’s best interests in most cases. The process for fathers only becomes legal when there is some court action defining the father’s rights.
Why Mediation Instead of Legal Action?
As noted, it is possible to bring this matter to the court. The judge can make decisions for your child based on the information presented. However, no one knows your child better than you. This is why mediation tends to be the best first step whenever possible.
Furthermore, Massachusetts’s laws state that mothers hold legal custody of a child from the time of his or her birth. To change this, it is essential that the parents come together to negotiation or mediate the process. During this time, both parents can propose different options for custody, child support, visitation, as well as decision-making abilities for medical care, religious aspects, and education. During mediation, you and the child’s other parent can come together to discuss this information and come to an agreement.
When You Don’t Agree
Many unmarried parents in Massachusetts believe mediation isn’t an option because they do not agree with the other parent. How can you agree to terms when you do not have the same beliefs of what is right for your child? Mediation is more than just putting parents in a room until they decide. In most cases, your mediation professional will create terms and make recommendations after meeting with both parents to discuss their desires. However, mediation professionals cannot put these practices in place immediately or by force.
Key Components to Develop During Mediation
When you work with a lawyer or mediator, their goal should be to help create a cohesive agreement that focuses on all aspects of the legal process. This will include the following aspects based on how they apply to your case.
- Child Support: In most situations, the non-residential parent will need to pay child support. The Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines apply to the determination of child support for unmarried parents.
- Parenting Plans: Unmarried parents have the right to maintain a relationship with their child. This is done through parenting time. Joint custody is an option for parents to consider. Parenting time is given as parties may agree. A good resource for this is the Model Parenting Plan provided through the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court Department. However, parties can agree to the terms that best fit their needs through mediation.
Also, note that the establishment of paternity is often done through a court action unless both parties agree. This establishes the father’s right to a relationship with the child.
Schedule a Consultation for Unmarried Parent Mediation Right Now
Our goal at Infinity Law Group is to help you to resolve these matters in the best way for your family. We encourage you to take action right away as an unmarried parent. Don’t allow a court to make these big decisions about your child for you. Instead, let our experienced and trusted mediation professionals guide you through the process. We encourage you to call us now for a free phone consultation at 855-941-0909 or contact us through our online form.