It is always important for your kids that you reach an agreement concerning custody, visitation and support whether you were married or not. Communication is key, even if it requires counseling or mediation.? No matter how messy things get, you need to work together in the best interests of your child.
Rules for child custody and visitation vary from state to state.? The following is a general overview of some things you need to consider.
Most states, including Illinois and Missouri, will order that both legal parents retain custody (joint or shared custody).? This means that both parents have legal rights over the major decisions concerning the child, such as education and medical care.? Physical custody (where the child lives) is usually shared.? The child will spend equal amounts of time with each parent, with one parent being the ?primary physical custodian.?
In some states, like Illinois and Missouri, it is ordered that one parent retain ?primary physical custody? while the other parent is given ?reasonable rights of visitation.?? This means that the parent who isn?t the primary caretaker during the school week is given rights to spend weekends or other time with the child, called visitation.? This would not happen, however, if there is a strong reason to believe that this arrangement would be harmful to the child.
Both legal parents, married or not, are required in every state to provide their child with financial support. Parents are required to pay until the child turns 18.? If the child is 18 and still in high school, the noncustodial parent is required to keep paying until the child graduates high school or turns 19, whichever comes first.
If one parent is supporting the bulk of the cost of taking care of the child, a family law court will order the noncustodial parent to pay child support.? The amount of support will depend on the income of the parents.? It also takes into account housing costs, health care, dental bills, clothing, and school costs.? If support isn?t paid on a voluntary basis, the custodial parent can obtain a court order setting the amount the noncustodial parent must pay.? If the noncustodial parent has the ability to pay, but does not do so, the district attorney can prosecute that parent for non-payment.
Unmarried couples can make their own agreements covering child support, custody and visitation.? They could do this on their own, but it is highly advisable to have a family law advocate go over the agreement with both parties to make sure everything is in order.?? You may also want to have your agreement witnessed and notarized.
You should approach your agreement with flexibility and openness.? Keep in mind that no agreement is permanently binding, even one ordered by a judge.? Circumstances are likely to change for one or both parties and it may become necessary to modify the agreement in the future.