If two unwed people have a child and split up, is it treated like a divorce?

If two people have a child out of wedlock, and they split up, is it treated like a divorce? 

I will answer this question for the jurisdiction of Utah. 

The child custody dispute (if there is one between the parents) is usually subject to the same laws and court rules that apply to the child custody award in a divorce action. That means that the court considers in a non-divorce child custody dispute the same factors for awarding child custody and child support as would apply in a divorce case in which child custody is an issue. 

But because the couple was not married, the court will not treat the couple as married, which means that the court will not divide between the two unmarried people property and responsibility for debt (because the court cannot do so in a paternity (now known as a “parentage”) case or in a child custody dispute case. For the same reasons, the court cannot award alimony or spousal support to someone who is not a spouse. 

If an unmarried couple acquired property or incurred debt jointly and they cannot or will not agree how to divide that property or responsibility for debt between them after the couple splits up, they would have to address those issues through legal processes other than a divorce action because only married people can divorce. 

Finally, there are a few states that recognize a couple as married even if they did not participate in a formal, legally recognized marriage ceremony (known as a “solemnized” marriage). Such is known as a common law marriage or as a valid, but unsolemnized marriage. In such jurisdictions, a man or woman can sue the other person he/she has lived with and had children with can file a lawsuit for a “divorce” and can obtain a decree of divorce and have the parties’ and their children subject to that jurisdiction’s divorce laws if, and only if, he/she can convince the court that the parties’ relationship should be recognized as a common law or legally valid unsolemnized marriage (See30-1-4.5. Validity of marriage not solemnized). 

Utah Family Law, LC | | 801-466-9277  

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