Juvenile Custody Matters vs. Domestic Relations Custody Matters
Juvenile Court has jurisdiction over custody disputes between parents who were never married. Domestic Relations Court has jurisdiction over custody matters for married parents. There are many dissimilarities between the law and procedure in both areas.
Married Parents vs. Unmarried Parents
Perhaps the one that can create the most problems for parties in a situation where the parents are unmarried is that the Father’s obligation to support the child begins the date the baby is born. This can have serious implications if parties do not establish a Child Support Order through the Court for many years. They may be getting along, Father is seeing the child frequently, and providing support in form of clothes and other tangible items, but not money.
If the relationship between the parties disintegrates, and Mother should file for support, and let’s say the child is nine years old, the Court can hold the Father responsible for support back to the day of the baby’s birth. This would be a large amount of money.
On the other hand, if a divorced couple separates, but neither party files for support, the Court will not have jurisdiction over the issue of child support until one of the parties’ files for divorce. This can result in the parties living separately for years, with no support being exchanged, and no implications to either party for this happening.
Obviously, the biggest risk is to the parent of the child born out of wedlock when there is no Support Order put in place. Under these circumstances, it is sometimes necessary for the lawyer to advise the client to open a support case in Juvenile Court to ensure that they receive credit for any amounts paid to the other spouse as child support.
Mother Is The Custodial Parent For A Child Born Out Of Wedlock
Another distinction is that the Mother of a child born out of wedlock is the custodial parent upon the child’s birth. The Father has essentially no rights unless and until paternity has been established and he goes to Court for a Court Order regarding parenting time. When a couple is married, both parents are considered the custodial parent and legal guardian at all times, until a Court says otherwise. While the decision as to who should ultimately get custody of the child is based on the same principle—what is in the best interest of the child—a Father of a child who is born out of wedlock must jump through additional hoops compared to the parent of a child born during a marriage. The good news is that once paternity has been established by the Father, the standard for determining custody in both situations is the same, and that is what is in the best interest of the child and neither party has a presumption over the other.
This points out the importance of consulting with a lawyer in custody and in support situations, as you don’t know what you don’t know.