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Many child custody cases in Illinois involve unmarried parents. In many cases involving unmarried parents, the parents have been in a long-term relationship, and the father may be the child’s legal parent. However, in other child custody cases where the parents are unmarried, the father may not have been involved in the child’s life and may have had only a limited relationship with the child’s mother.
In either type of situation, parental responsibilities can still be allocated, and both parents can share in important decision-making responsibilities and parenting time. However, the process will depend upon whether the father is the legal father of the child or whether paternity (or parentage) must be established. Our experienced Illinois divorce attorneys can provide you with more information.
Custody issues often arise when parents are unmarried, and it is usually the father who is seeking to prove paternity in order to be eligible to seek child custody or the allocation of parental responsibilities. Proving paternity or parentage establishes that the person is the legal parent of the child and has parental rights. It is important to know first that the Illinois Parentage Act of 2015 does not necessarily require marriage for a presumption of parentage to exist. To be sure, the statute specifies that there will be a presumption of parentage when parties are married, in a civil union, or in a “substantially similar legal relationship,” and the child is born during the relationship or within 300 days of it.
When parentage has been established, and both parents are legal parents of the child, the fact that they are unmarried will not impact the child custody case.
When there is a need to establish parentage because one of the unmarried parents is not yet the legal parent of the child, it will be necessary to establish parentage before seeking child custody. Until paternity is established, the mother will have sole decision-making responsibilities and parenting time. There are multiple ways for unmarried couples in relationships to establish parentage, even if the parents are not in a civil union or a substantially similar legal relationship. According to the Illinois Parentage Act of 2015, the parents can:
When a court must establish paternity, the parties will typically undergo genetic testing to prove parentage. Once paternity is established, and a man is determined to be the legal parent of the child, then that parent can seek child custody and can be allocated parental responsibilities based on the best interests of the child factors outlined in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA).
As long as parentage and the parent-child relationship are established for both parents, the fact that the parents are unmarried will not impact a child custody case. One of our Chicago child custody attorneys can provide you with more information about the specific facts of your case. Contact Women’s Divorce & Family Law Group for more information.