When most people hear the words "family law," the first thing that comes to mind is divorce, followed by child custody. Trying to navigate your way through a separation, custody battles, child support, adoption, alimony, or any other issue that falls under family law is exhausting, as the field is large, and the issues complex.
If you’re a father who wishes to play an active role in your children's emotional, physical, and financial growth, or is currently involved in a custody battle, you should seek the legal guidance of a father’s rights lawyer who will advocate for your best interests.
What Does a Father’s Rights Lawyer Do?
The procedures for exercising or terminating paternity rights can be extensive and excruciating. Since they often include paperwork and court actions, a father can undoubtedly benefit from consulting with a family law attorney.
A father's rights attorney can guide you through the legal procedure of establishing or contesting paternity, terminating your paternal rights, challenging your child’s adoption, or setting up a visitation arrangement and child support payments.
For example, in many states, joint and shared custody arrangements are typically deemed not in the best interests of the child(ren), since they deprive them of the right to a stable home environment, which is crucial to their wellbeing and growth. An attorney will know this and advise you accordingly.
Mother’s Rights vs. Father’s Rights
If an unmarried father wants to attain and retain his parental rights, he must either provide a signed birth certificate or undergo DNA testing. A father's parental rights may be revoked for various reasons, including abandonment, not paying child support, child neglect or abuse, mental incompetence, or any other kind of parental unfitness.
These issues require expertise and guidance, as this is a complex area of law to handle. Your parental rights attorney will be familiar with your state's adoption statutes and the measures you’re supposed to take.
Establishing Paternity for Unmarried Fathers
Biological parents have the right to seek child visitation or custody whether or not the child's parents were married when the child was born. Courts decide on cases involving unmarried fathers as they do for other child custody and visitation decisions.
Determining who a child's legal father is is referred to as establishing paternity. Fathers who were not married to the child’s other parent at the time their child was born must establish paternity legally to be granted the father's rights. What’s more, each state has specific guidelines about it, i.e., establishing paternity in Illinois is not the same as doing it in California or Texas.
This frequently entails both parents signing and registering an admission of paternity with the relevant state court or institution, either at the time of the child's birth or later. In contested paternity cases, DNA testing is required.
After establishing paternity, a father may seek child custody and visitation rights.
Many parents come to a divorce settlement agreement before or after the court process begins (also called a parenting agreement or custody agreement). If the parents (and other parties, including parental rights lawyers) negotiate and resolve all issues concerning child custody and visitation in a custody dispute, the couple can create a written agreement. They can reach an agreement on their own, through mediation, or with the assistance of an attorney.
Although parenting agreements differ between cases, the following are some of the key elements usually included in them:
- Who will have legal custody of the child
- Child visitation schedules
- Who will the child spend significant holidays and vacations with
- How will disagreements and changes to the agreement be handled
The parenting agreement then becomes a binding court order or "decree" in most states, specifying the parties’ rights and obligations. Legal help for fathers seeking custody is advised, as, after it’s ratified, the agreement's parties must implement it or risk legal repercussions.
For unwed parents, visiting rights for fathers are usually determined by criteria such as their current relationship with the child, any history of drug or alcohol use and abuse, and a variety of other circumstances contributing to the child's safety and wellbeing.
If you and the mother cannot agree, or you need assistance with establishing your parental rights and are unsure how to begin the procedure, you will undoubtedly require the assistance of an attorney. You can even ask the court for a contested hearing.
Child Support, Custody, and Visitation Rights for Fathers
Once paternity has been proven, the dad is eligible for the father’s rights in child support, custody, and visitation rights. Consequently, he may be obliged to pay child support. The family court issues child support orders based on state child support guidelines. Of course, a court can deviate from state norms, but only in cases where there are strong reasons to do so.
If you move to a different state while under a child support order, you may be subject to the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, which requires states to recognize and enforce child support orders from other states’ jurisdictions. To obtain the best outcome in a child support arrangement, have a lawyer for father’s rights by your side.
When it comes to an unmarried father’s visitation rights, they depend strongly on their relationship with the child, as well as other relevant factors, such as any history of substance abuse or domestic violence.
Courts generally assume that having both parents participating in their children's upbringing benefits them. While courts acknowledge an unmarried father’s visiting rights, it is uncommon for fathers to get sole custody of a child currently raised by the mother.
On the other hand, if one parent can demonstrate that the other parent's visitation or custody will likely harm the child due to problematic behavior, a petition to alter the current parenting arrangement can be filed in court, with the help of a child custody lawyer for fathers or mothers.
Parental Rights Termination
Every parent has the right to be involved in their child's care, upbringing, and education. Nonetheless, a parent’s rights can be terminated voluntarily or involuntarily, be they the mother or father.
When one parent wants to legally terminate the rights of the other parent, this is an involuntary termination. Involuntary termination can also occur when a state agency takes legal processes to terminate both parents' rights to adopt their children after divorce.
When requesting involuntary termination, the parent or state does it on the basis of factors in favor of termination, such as child abandonment or abuse, substance abuse, the other parent’s criminal record, etc.
The procedure for terminating parental rights varies between states. Whether the termination is consensual or involuntary, the process is complex and challenging. Still, a father’s rights lawyer will know what is required in your state and guide you through the process with valuable legal counsel.
The divorce process is rarely easy, from the initial discussion about getting a divorce, to its finalization. Like many other legal proceedings, paternity cases are often painful and emotionally charged. Long-term implications for everyone involved are unavoidable.
If you want to be involved in your children’s lives, your best bet would be to hire an experienced and skilled family lawyer. An attorney for father’s rights can help you navigate this challenging process and help you make the best legal decisions for you and your children.