In the past on this family law blog, we have discussed the changing trends of the family in the United States. Fewer people are getting married these days. Couples are waiting longer to tie the knot. And part of that reality is that many couples choose to cohabitate without having gotten married.
According to a USA Today report, couples are doing more than living together before marriage. They are starting families before marriage. This isn't incredibly surprising, since fewer people intend to get married in their lives. But starting a family without marriage doesn't mean that family law issues, especially child custody, shouldn't be discussed as soon as possible.
Even with marriage, a relationship can seem all healthy and happy, but when the happiness ends, it is helpful in the transition of divorce if a couple already has discussed their desires regarding child custody, property division, child support, etc. before spouses are no longer getting along.
Without marriage, the issue of child custody could become more of a fight between parents. Courts tend to grant primary custody of a child to the primary caregiver, which is often the mother. Keeping that in mind, a father should take steps to protect himself and his parental rights. A custody fight is the last thing you want to put a child through when his parents split is already changing his world as he knows it.
Making agreements regarding the what ifs of a relationship and family, even (or especially) without marriage, is a wise choice. A child and his well-being are just as valuable without his parents having said "I do." And with regards to the rise in cohabitating without marriage, property is equally valuable with or without marriage. A contract regarding division of property should be made between cohabitating partners.
While people might think that they are saving themselves some sort of hassle by not getting married, they should not avoid the same family law discussions and preparation that protect married couples from the potential end of their union.
Source: USA Today, "More children born to unmarried parents," Sharon Jayson, April 11, 2012