“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage”?
That’s not the case for the 40% of births in the United States occurring to women who are either solo mothers or living with a nonmarital partner.*
Unmarried parenthood has increased substantially over the past few decades. Today, approximately twenty-five percent of parents in the U.S. are unmarried.* Marriage rates are declining, and it’s become increasingly common for single parents to raise children alone and for unmarried couples to raise children together while cohabiting.
Increases in cohabiting relationships, which tend to be shorter term than marriages, and increases in divorce have contributed to familial instability.* By the age of nine, more than 20% of U.S. children born to a married couple and more than 50% of those born to a cohabiting couple will have experienced the breakup of their parents.*
That leaves an important question: what happens to these children when their parents separate?
Regardless of whether parents are married or unmarried when they separate, parenting schedules and child support issues need to be determined. When parents are not married, paternity will also need to be established to protect the legal rights of the parents and children. Unfortunately, many separating parents fight prolonged, high-conflict legal battles in court because they don’t know there’s a better option. The collaborative process helps parents avoid a long and costly court battle.
The Collaborative Process for Unmarried Parents
The collaborative process is not just for divorcing couples, but also for unmarried parents who wish to make informed decisions for their families on their own terms, without court intervention.
The collaborative process is a holistic dispute resolution model, specifically designed to enhance trust and communication between parents in order to resolve legal, emotional, and financial issues related to the child.
In collaborative cases involving unmarried parents, each parent hires a collaboratively trained attorney. Many parents also choose to hire mental health professionals and/or financial professionals to help resolve roadblocks to resolution. Through the collaborative process, parents resolve issues related to their children, including parenting plans and child support.
Because parents drive this process (rather than lawyers or a judge), the agreements are often more sustainable, flexible, and mindful of the family’s specific needs than a judicial officer’s orders would be.
Collaborative Co-Parenting for Unmarried Parents
Much of the co-parenting dialogue is centered around divorce, but unmarried parents face their own unique challenges.
For example, never-married parents often don’t have the foundation that married parents have in raising children together, especially if they never lived together or had only a short-term relationship. In some ways, not having a long history of conflict may bode well for these parents. However, it also presents the unique challenge of getting to know the co-parent while raising a child together. For parents who have already divorced and are now co-parenting, the divorce, especially if it was high conflict, may have exacerbated communication and trust issues.
Mental health coaches in the collaborative process are trained to guide parents in becoming effective co-parents and help them resolve issues involving their children. Further, many parents choose to bring on a child specialist as a member of the collaborative team to bring the child’s perspective into the process. The child specialist works with the children and makes recommendations to the parents. Keeping the children’s needs at the center of the process serves the best interests of the children.
Parentage cases are rising, and unmarried parents should know that the collaborative process is a valuable option to help them resolve their disputes respectfully, privately, cost-effectively, and without ever stepping foot in a courtroom, for the benefit of their children.
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