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How Fathers Can Protect Their Rights in Cohabiting Relationships

It’s been quite a while since the movie ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ addressed the social issues associated with divorce, and in particular, whether or not a father is just as qualified as a mother to raise children in a single-parent household. In fact, it has been 35 years since this pivotal film forced viewers to rethink their views on who, exactly, makes for a good parent. And yet, men still face an uphill battle when it comes to exerting their right to parent. In most cases involving child custody, men are lucky if they can manage the equal share of time provided by joint custody, and in many cases they still end up with the scraps of visitation that give them only a few days out of every month with their kids. This situation can be made even more difficult when they have come from a cohabiting standpoint, which is to say, they were never married to the mother of their children. However, there are steps fathers can take to ensure that they have legal rights when they enter into cohabiting relationships.

The most important rights to protect in a cohabiting situation are parental rights, and the right to parent can be most easily established by confirming paternity. You must therefore make sure that you are listed on the birth certificate as the father of your children, or in lieu of this, you should seek a paternity test so that you have proof of lineage. Adoption is also an option in situations where some or all of the children you’re raising aren’t yours biologically. You might also want to establish some kind of legal right to equal time with your children during the time you are in a cohabiting relationship, and this can be done by entering into a joint guardian agreement with the mother of your children. You may not see the necessity when you’re living together since you and your partner clearly have joint responsibilities where your kids are concerned. But if, for some reason, the cohabiting arrangement comes to an end, you will have legally established your joint right to participate in the lives of your kids. Of course, this implies joint maintenance, as well, so if you earn more money than a partner you may end up paying child support in the event of a split.

If your reason for cohabiting is that you cannot get married because you are already hitched to someone else, then it’s probably time to get a divorce from the spouse you are no longer living with. Since this can affect your rights where property and other issues are concerned, it is definitely a good idea to settle your affairs so that you can get on with your life, at least in a legal sense. On the other hand, you could enter into a number of legal agreements regarding cohabitation in order to protect your rights, whether you’re married to someone else or not. For example, you could draft a joint tenancy agreement that gives both parties legal rights to property, much like in a marriage. Or you could draw up a cohabitation agreement that will make it easy to split finances and assets in the event that you separate from your partner.

And it’s not a bad idea to speak to a family lawyer about adjusting inheritance and/or setting up a conservatorship for you and your partner’s insurance, pension, will, and so on. Just because you don’t want to get married doesn’t mean you don’t want your assets to pass on to your partner and your children in the event of your untimely death. Marriage protects your parental and spousal rights on several levels, and these are benefits you won’t enjoy with a cohabitation situation. So you have to protect yourself in order to ensure that you’re not one of those fathers left in the cold, paying child support for kids that you never get to see.

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