Unmarried with Children

by Brette Sember

1.25 million babies (one third of all births) are born each year in the U.S. to unmarried parents. Many people just assume these babies are born to single teen moms, when in fact 41% of these births are to unmarried cohabiting couples. People no longer get married, then have the baby. A significant portion of couples never marry, or marry years after becoming parents.

There are lots of situations in which people choose to raise children outside of marriage. Many people who have been through a bad marriage vow to never repeat that mistake again, and find that they are happy to live together as partners without a piece of paper validating their love.

Many couples conceive a child but decide they aren't meant to be together, yet do find a way to continue to parent together even though they are no longer a couples. There has been a significant rise in the number of single women in their 30s and 40s choosing to have children, as well as the "gayby" boom -- gay couples (who are not permitted to marry in most states) adopting or conceiving children.

Unmarried Celebs

Hollywood has set the example in this instance. Couples such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams, Nicole Ritchie and Joel Madden, Halle Berry and Gabrielle Aubry, Naomi Watts and Liev Schrieber, Matthew McConaughey and Camila Alves, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, Madonna and her bodyguard (the father of her first child), Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard, and Farah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal share or have shared children in a partnership outside marriage.

Many other famous couples become parents first and later choose to marry, such as Annette Bening and Warren Beatty, Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid, and Madonna and Guy Ritchie (the father of her second child).

Unmarried Challenges

Unmarried couples face huge challenges in our marriage-centric society. Married couples are automatically legal parents together, while an unmarried father must go through a legal procedure to become the "real" father. Putting dad's name on the birth certificate is not enough. To become a legal father, a man who is not married to the baby's mother must sign an acknowledgment of paternity (a legal document) or go through a paternity proceeding in family court.

Unmarried couples face other challenges, such discrimination in adoption or fertility treatments. Some clinics and doctors are unwilling to provide assistance to unmarried women or unmarried couples who are trying to become pregnant, although fortunately there are many professionals who do not have such a bias. Some adoption agencies are not willing to place children in unmarried homes and some foreign countries prohibit adoption of children from their country by single people or unmarried couples.

Unmarried families must deal with unfair income tax treatment. Even if they live together as a nuclear family, they are not eligible for the same married family tax breaks available to families where the parents have chosen to marry.

One of the greatest challenges is a general lack of understanding by doctors, teachers, and neighbors. Society, schools, and the legal system are not set up to recognize and support unmarried parents, and so many find themselves feeling ignored or misunderstood.

Creating Your Own Rules

Many unmarried parents have found that since society and systems are not set up to accommodate a family life that doesn't fit within traditional definitions, they have to create their own rules.

Some parents work out financial arrangements outside of courts. Instead of going to court and getting orders of custody and child support, they create their own schedules and share finances in a way that makes sense to them. Unmarried families also rely on health care directives, wills, and powers of attorney to define legal rights and offer protection from a system that does not understand nontraditional families.

Comments

Wow congratulations guys! I hope that you can raise your child in a right and proper way. I am proud of you because there are some couple who are trying to have a cohabitation agreements for them to have an assurance that their partner will sustain the needs of the baby but without knowing that it has a disadvantage that thinking about and talking through all the issues that should be covered – including death, divorce, and illness, often involve long, hard work. But talking about the terms of a contract could be looked on as a massive plus to a relationship, showing that it is mature enough to work through major decisions.

My SO and I have been together for a little more than a year. We're happily un-married. He has shown interest in marrying one day but I'm the one not really willing to budge much. Maybe one day - but not now. We've both been married before & I just can't see a real good reason behind it.
We haven't told many people about our "bun in the oven" but that's only because we're at 12 weeks right now and I've had complications with pregnancies in the past. But I'm sure the opinions will come pouring in once folks find out.

Thanks for this article! We are in that 41% and have been together for 10+ years. So far I have had someone ask me if I thought about giving it up/not keeping it, and another is now calling my man the "baby daddy". Both were people I considered friends but now I think they are not so awesome. People are really ignorant and cruel.

We're in our 30's and this really shouldn't be a big shocker after so many years. I am shocked by people's lack of thought about what they are saying.