When dealing with any custody issue, taking the correct steps before a problem occurs is critical. With unmarried couples, it is helpful to have an understanding about the other partner's wishes if problems arise leading to the separation of the parents (such as immigration or criminal problems leading to jail). Having a plan and a common understanding will not only save time and avoid many arguments, but it also can help in family court processes. Couples should put a plan in writing and sign the document and each keep a copy in a safe place. Although a document like this is not exactly an enforceable agreement in court (like a contract), it could be very helpful if there was ever a need to go to court.
The most important thing for unmarried couples to do, however, is to file for a custody order. Many people think that filing for custody in court is only for people who are fighting, broken-up or who want child support payments. This is not always the case. In fact, it is the most responsible and smart thing to do when there is no marriage bond between the parents. A custody order can be tailored to the couple and can do almost anything that the parents agree to. The custody order will establish whether one or both parents will be the legally recognized parent responsible for making major decisions on behalf of their child (medical, school or travel decisions). It will also establish where the home is for the children and whatever parenting time the parents want to share.
In short, a custody order is the ONLY WAY to legally protect both parents from unforeseen issues or complications if the relationship breaks down. If a parent decides to move outside of the state or country and decides to take the children with them against the wishes of the other parent, if there is no custody order already in place, the court would be powerless to help return the child to their home in Michigan. For unmarried couples, a custody order is the best way to protect the children and their relationship with both parents.