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Fathers' Rights

In the past, family courts tended to side with mothers, especially those of very young children, on issues of custody. But fathers’ rights issues are becoming increasingly prevalent in the arena of family law as many fathers feel discriminated against based on their gender and denied equal protection of the law under the United States Constitution.

Because of this, fathers are pursuing protection for their legal rights in multiple areas of family law, from paternity to adoption. Here’s an overview of fathers’ rights laws.

Establishing Paternity

When a man is married, he is generally presumed to be the legal father of all children born within the marriage, unless paternity testing of himself or another man specifically proves otherwise. When a man is not married to the mother of a baby, establishing his paternity requires taking steps to do so.

Many states allow unwed or potential fathers to sign an affidavit or acknowledgment with the mother establishing legal paternity. Otherwise you may need to submit to a DNA test to establish or disprove paternity.

Unmarried Fathers

An unmarried father may be in an ongoing relationship with the mother of the baby, quite possibly living together. In that case, he can go to the hospital with the mother at the time of the birth, support her through it, and have his name on the birth certificate from the beginning.

If a man is not in an ongoing relationship with the mother of the baby, establishing paternity will be more involved. Unless the mother agrees to affirm his parenthood, he will need to get a paternity test to prove it genetically. Keep in mind that establishing paternity also carries the obligation to contribute financially to the support of the baby.

Paternity also allows fathers to pursue visitation, joint custody, or even primary custody if he feels that would be in the child’s best interests. In some cases, good and competent fathers may face opposition from the mother of their children when they pursue parenting time. When that happens, they will need the services of an attorney who is experienced in such cases.

Fathers of Children Placed for Adoption

Fathers may also need an attorney if the mother of the baby tries to put the baby up for adoption without the father’s consent. This can happen if an adoption agency seeks to expedite adoptions by excluding the biological father. And some states maintain adoption registries to provide notice to potential fathers if the mother puts the child up for adoption. Failure to register could waive a father’s right to challenge the adoption later.

When that happens, the father will need help from an attorney who understands the legal rights of unmarried fathers in adoption cases and the applicable laws in the states involved.

Divorced Fathers

While having their child adopted without their consent is rare for divorced fathers, child custody issues are common. Many divorced fathers across the country have unequivocally stated that courts treated their parenting time as less valuable than that of their ex-wife’s in family courts. Fathers who love their children want parenting time that allows them to be involved in their children’s lives on a regular basis.

However, many feel relegated to the status of visitor, despite being good parents. A capable attorney can help fathers in these situations pursue the amount of parenting time that they feel is best for their children.

Child Custody and Visitation for Fathers

In every state and in every case, state laws require family courts to make child custody and visitation decisions using a “best interests of the child” standard. While the exact factors used when making these determinations can vary, courts will examine the child’s age, health, and needs along with past histories and the current living situations of both parents before ordering custody and visitation.

Family courts also divide custody into two concepts: legal custody refers to a parent’s ability to make important life decisions on behalf of the child and physical custody describes where and with which parent the child is actually spending their time.

Fathers may share joint physical custody, with the children spending comparable amounts of time with the father and the mother after the divorce. Or they could have primary custody, with the children spending most of their time with the father. It may even be sole custody, with the children living only with the father.

Child custody cases in divorce can be intense, and typically require substantial documentation. These cases often take tremendous time and energy, and often require excellent legal teams to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Child Support

While child custody tends to be the most important matter for fathers, since it is most important to their relationship with the children, child support is a key issue, too. Every parent has a legal obligation to provide for their minor children. And child support payments are typically set when one of the parents is not living together with the children, whether the parents were never married or have been divorced.

Child support payments are intended to cover the basic living expenses of the children, like food, clothes, and healthcare. Courts may also order child support payment amounts to include the costs of other things, like private school tuition. The amount of support is determined by analyzing the financial situation of both parents and the child’s needs. Even though a court may take into account which parent has primary custody when ordering child support, family courts treat those two issues separately — so parents cannot condition visitation time on payment of child support and vice versa.

Many fathers feel that the money they are paying is not going only to those expenses, but is spent by the mother of the children on unrelated things. They want a clear accounting of expenditures.

Other fathers feel that the overall amount of child support they have been ordered to pay is exorbitant and doesn’t reflect the real cost of the child’s expenditures or the father’s ability to pay. In all these cases, it will be important for the father to secure the ongoing services of a skilled attorney, to address all the applicable issues, relevant laws, and documentation.

Modification of Parenting Agreements and Family Court Orders

Child support, custody, and visitation orders are not set in stone, and it may be possible to modify existing divorce decrees and parenting agreements. If there has been a substantial change in your or the other parent’s living or financial situation, existing orders can be modified. Modification is not easy, however, so contact an experienced family law attorney if you need help.

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