We mediate family disputes on a regular basis, including disputes between unmarried parents regarding child custody, visitation, and child support.  One of the common misconceptions amongst unmarried parents is how and when custody is determined.  Many unmarried parents believe that if the father has acknowledged paternity and is on the birth certificate, then that means the father also has custody.  That is most often not the case.  Under Oklahoma law, “[e]xcept as otherwise provided by law, the mother of a child born out of wedlock has custody of the child until determined otherwise by a court of competent jurisdiction.”[i]  (emphasis added).

Even if the father has acknowledged paternity, he does not have custody (or visitation) rights until a court has determined otherwise.  Sometimes unmarried parents will have come to an informal arrangement after the birth and sometimes even a regular schedule where the father has the child or children in his care.  That does not mean that custody and visitation have been established by the court.

An informal arrangement may work for a while, but at some point, if the parents do not agree, they may want to formally establish a visitation schedule and other issues for a parenting plan.  There are generally two ways for this to be established.  One, the parties can come to an agreement themselves, such as through mediation.  That agreement is then submitted to a judge for approval and enforcement by the court.  Alternatively, either the father or mother can file a petition to establish paternity, and the court will decide on custody, visitation and child support.

It should be noted that child support is determined by a formula set by the state.  Child support is not dependent on either parent having visitation with the children.  “Both the mother of a child born out of wedlock and an individual who has been legally determined to be the father of a child by acknowledgment or by judicial or administrative order are each liable for the support and education of the child.”[ii]  Simply put, if either parent owes child support under the state formula, child support is still owed regardless of whether issues of custody and visitation have been determined by a court.

There are a lot of issues for unmarried parents to consider.  Mediation and Dispute Resolution, LLC can help you think through issues to resolve a dispute and come up with a parenting plan for the future.

[i] 10 O.S. §7800 (OSCN 2018)

[ii] 10 O.S. §83(A) (OSCN 2018)

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