Child Support Bullets Part 12: Unmarried Parents, Mediation and Non-Relatives

All aspects of family law have their challenges to consider.Couple-Counter-300x200

Even amicable divorces that revolve around mediation can be uncomfortable and emotionally draining for the people involved. But issues often become a lot more complex when the focus shifts to the children involved in a divorce between two parents.

We know that parents in New York and various parts of the USA are deemed responsible for caring for the child, both emotionally, and financially, until they reach the age of adulthood. However, when two parents separate, it’s often difficult to determine how each parent should be expected to deliver their fair share of this “support”.

In our Child Support Bullet series, we’re tackling some of the most common issues raised in child support cases. Today, we’ll be looking at unmarried parents, mediation, and child support expectations for non-relative guardians.

The Dynamics of Child Support Mediation (Unmarried Parents)

When parents get divorced, they often have various concerns to think about, from who should have custody of the child or children, to how parenting time should be assigned. However, those issues also arise for parents who aren’t married, but still need to think about the best interests of a child when bringing an end to a relationship.

  • Discussions about parenting time and child support, among other issues, aren’t limited to the conversations had in a court room by divorcing parties. As a mediator, I often work with married couples going through a divorce, and we address the child support issue as one of the many concepts that needs to be discussed before the divorce is finalized.
  • However, it’s also possible for non-married parents to work with a mediator or a family law attorney to discuss issues of child support and custody too. Notably however, there are some slightly different mechanisms involved with turning an agreement regarding child support into an order when a couple is not married.
  • During a divorce, I often submit an uncontested divorce package, after we have mediated an agreement. The uncontested divorce lists myself as the divorce attorney for the plaintiff, however I act as a neutral party for both sides of the couple. When the agreement is signed, there aren’t any remaining issues of contention between the parties, this allows me to shepherd the process of an uncontested divorce through the court system.
  • If an issue arose during a case with divorcing parties, when the divorce was still pending, I would need to withdraw from the matter as a mediator, and each party would be responsible for finding their own independent attorneys. I recommend the use of review attorneys in mediation anyway, and the couple could use those review attorneys going forward.
  • When I work with a party going through a divorce, I can draft and submit uncontested papers, and most cases will see the Supreme Court sign off on the agreement in these papers. However, couples that were never married must go through a different process. In this case, I can only draft an agreement for the parties, and help them in creating a petition that they can take to court. My name will not be listed as an attorney for the other side, and the parties will need to choose one person who will be the petitioner in court. This is the process since that petition will be submitted in family court which requires in person court appearances.  Uncontested divorces do not require in person court appearances.  As a neutral mediator I cannot appear in the family court during a court appearance as the lawyer for either party.
  • In practice, I find many agreements drafted in mediation, particularly associated with child support payments, are often approved by the courts, even when the couple is not married. This is usually the case as long as the agreement holds the best interests of the children in the highest regard.

Parental Rights, Non-Relatives, and Child Support

We all have different definitions of what “family” means to us. However, the court of New York’s definition must be the one you consider when it comes to making decisions around child support, custody, and parenting rights. Only a parent in New York court can apply for parenting rights. Unfortunately, the guidelines of Domestic Relations Law don’t fully define what a parent is, meaning that the courts need to make this decision on their own.

  • Most of the time, except for in cases of extraordinary circumstances, the courts hold that a parent should prevail over a non-parent in decisions made about who should have custody of a child. Extraordinary circumstances might include drug use, domestic violence, the length of time that a child resides with a non-parent, or the abandonment of the child among other examples.
  • As the family status continues to transform, based on the evolution of our community and society, the courts of New York are re-thinking the way they look at the definition of a “parent”. When complicated issues occur, the courts can sometimes overturn previous ideas of what may have been deemed correct by previous case law.
  • In today’s world, the New York courts must consider the unique circumstances at hand, and how they affect the definition of parenthood.
  • Crucially, when someone chooses to pursue a child support order against a non-biological, or non-adoptive parent, that person whom the order is sought against will not be able to maintain the right to claim that they should support the child as a parent would if they have already have status for custody and visitation purposes. Obtaining rights as a parent would for a child will also mean that you are applicable to pay child support if it is deemed necessary.
  • In any case involving children, it will be the responsibility of the courts of New York to consider the best interests of the child, and how the child will be affected by the decisions made. For instance, if a partner can show convincing and clear evidence that they had a plan with the other parent to raise a child together, that parent should have the ability to seek visitation and custody rights according to the recent decisions under the New York Family Court Act and Domestic Relations Laws.
  • Similarly, if a parent can prove that they agreed to raise a child with a non-biological or non-adoptive parent, and that parent agrees that they held themselves as the parent of the child in question, they may be subject to making child support payments too.

If you have any questions about the issues raised above, or you would like to discuss your own case, please feel free to reach out your earliest convenience. You can get in touch through the contact form on this website, or by reaching out over the phone at 516-333-6555. Free consultations are available for up to 30 minutes, and mediating couples are required to attend their consultations together.

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