Do You Still Have To Pay Child Support If You Were Never Married? 

June 29, 2022

In Washington State, regardless of whether you are in Bellevue or Seattle, you are still obligated to pay or receive child support if you and your partner were never married. Many times, unfortunately, one parent ends up saddled with all of the burdens when it comes to taking care of the children. Thankfully there are laws in place that will help by making each parent share responsibility. The law requires that both of you share custody or pay support; this can sometimes apply to both parents.

You and your partner can work out a joint agreement for child support together without court involvement if it is feasible. But if you are unable to come to an agreement and you are unmarried then the court will handle your case similar to how they handle married couples. If there is only one parent who is the legal guardian, then you should know that most states don’t recognize non-legal parent rights.


Different Living Situations


If you and your partner have lived together but haven’t established a civil union or domestic partnership you will not be able to have access to many rights and responsibilities that you would have if you were married; this is true especially if you were trying to receive spousal support after your separation.

If both of you are considered legal parents of the children, then you will be responsible to care for them. Sometimes the father in an unmarried couple may need to sign a certificate acknowledging that he is indeed the father to arrange the child support and visitation rights with his children. The goal is for both parents to have equal rights when it comes to visitation and any important decisions that are made for the children; although, the court can rule in favor of one parent depending on the circumstances and each parent’s relationship with them.

The amount of support paid can be arranged between both parents or by court order. Depending on where you live, if you and your partner have negotiated an informal agreement, then it may still need to be approved by a court. The court will award child support depending on the need and ability to pay.


The Consequences of Not Paying Child Support


If the parent paying the support stops paying then they will get fined and could be subject to other penalties, even jail time. When the support has not been paid, then it will accrue over time; the only way around this is if the court is able to approve a petition to change the amount of support due to a change in circumstances. If the person paying loses their job, then they will still be obligated to pay until the court provides any kind of relief. The payer must first seek a modification to the court order to have it changed or reduced. This means that even if the non-legal parenting has been caring for the children, then they might not have a right to get custody or have any future visitation with the kids.

If you and the other parent came to an informal agreement, then you can still petition the court to get the other parent to pay. When creating an order, the court will consider a change in circumstances but will require a modification when the payments are resumed. They may be able to issue an order against the other parent to pay back child support payments if the court finds that they were able to or required to pay during that time.

More times than not, child support generally ends once the children turn 18 or graduate from high school. In some cases, the parent receiving the support will request to extend this if the child is going to college and they need help paying for the associated expenses. There are also other extenuating circumstances to this like if the child has a disability or is special needs. If the child ends up getting adopted by another family, then child support can be terminated. In this occurrence, the payer of the support must terminate their parental rights for the adoption to take place. Courts will usually not make a rule if the adoption is pending; they will not rule in favor of any attempts to terminate the payers’ parental rights if they are trying to avoid paying child support.


The Importance of Paying Support


There are many disadvantages to being unmarried if you and your partner have children together. One example is that the mother or father who provided most of the care for them may not have visitation rights after separation. Even if the father is listed on the birth certificate of the child then a presumption of paternity does not exist when the couple is unmarried.

If the biological father is presumed to be a legal guardian and is listed on the child’s birth certificate, he is obligated to pay child support. This is applicable if any of the following are true: he and the mother were married at the time of the child’s birth, he attempted to marry the mother when the child was born or they were married after birth, and if he married the mother after birth and agreed to have his name listed on the birth certificate.

If the couple is unwed, then the father will have fewer rights compared to if they had gotten married. An example of this is if the mother is pregnant, then she does not have to get his consent or notify him if she plans on getting an abortion. If the mother does decide to keep their child, then the father will be obligated to pay child support if the court decides that he is considered a legal guardian. He will also have the right to visitation or custody if the couple is separated.


The Family Support Act of 1988


The Family Support Act of 1988 states that the court will enforce child support orders against parents who are delinquent on their payments. All US states must abide by this act by including automatic wage attachments in child support orders. It also encourages the court to use paternity tests which establish the father of being responsible to pay support. Because of this act, states have implemented automatic tracking and monitoring of parents who are guilty of nonpayment. Many times refusal to pay support is a result of parents who are frustrated with visitation, so this act has funded projects which improve noncustodial parents’ access to children.

If the payer of child support is guilty of nonpayment, then a court suit called Paternity Action will be filed against them. If the paternity has been established for the father, then the court will order him to pay child support as well as grant him a visitation schedule and custody rights. The court will make him take a blood or DNA test to determine paternity if they have not already done so.

In addition, the court will make each partner submit a financial statement to specify both their monthly incomes and expenses. This will give the court a complete picture of each partner’s current financial situation so they can establish the amount of support and ability to pay.

The Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984


Another act called the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984 gives all states guidelines on how to calculate the amount of child support that must be paid according to each parent’s income and expenses. All courts strive to create fairness for the parents to figure out the amount of support to be paid. According to the state you live in, there are different factors that will be considered to determine the amount of support. This includes the child’s health insurance, educational needs, daycare, special needs for the child, any needs of the custodial parent, the payer’s ability to pay, and they will make sure there is a good enough standard of living for the child.

To make an order for the amount to be paid the court will look at the relative income and assets of each parent. They will look at the custodial and non-custodial parent’s income and if one of them earns more than the other the amount of child support might be lessened or increased. More times than not, if the mother is the custodial parent then a lot of times they make less than the father.

If you are a couple who is unmarried and has children, you should consider all of the rights and responsibilities you have over your children. It is always a good idea to speak with a lawyer regarding this during your separation or divorce so you are able to set up a fair deal and be able to provide a good standard of living for your children.


How The Aberdeen Law Firm Can Help


If you are an unmarried parent who either has to pay child support or is receiving child support, the amount being paid or received may not be enough or it may be too much.  In either case, having a lawyer who is experienced in these matters help you can make a big difference in your case.  Feel free to call us to discuss your case.


Related Content: A Bellevue Child Custody Attorney Discusses the Rights of Unmarried Parents

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