If you are in the process of separating from or divorcing your child’s mother, you might be worried about whether you will lose the right to parent your child. This is a fear that many fathers in your position have. The good news is that in most cases, you will have rights to your child. Read on to find out what you need to know about father’s rights and how they might apply to your case.
A History of Father’s Rights
Before the industrial revolution, it was common for children to be considered the property of their fathers. In the case of a divorce, which was not very common, the children would go to live with their fathers and often, their mothers would no longer have rights to them at all.
This all changed as the country changed during the industrial revolution. The fathers went off to work in factories and various workplaces, and mothers were the primary caregivers of the children. This meant that during a divorce situation, the children usually remained with the mothers. The fathers might or might not have the rights or responsibilities of parenthood.
In recent decades, this began to change. Whereas even as recently as the 1980s, fathers might only see their children monthly or two weekends per month, fathers began being granted equal (or close to equal) time with their children after a divorce. Now, many divorcing couples have custody arrangements that give each parent equal rights to the child. This is usually the goal of all parties involved unless there are extenuating circumstances (more on that below).
If You Were Not Married
It is important to understand that if you are or were married to the mother of your child, you are assumed to be his or her father. If you were never married, however, that is not the case. In this situation, you will need to establish paternity if you have not already done so.
If your name is on your child’s birth certificate, you don’t need to do anything else; you have already established paternity. If not, you will need to complete a form. The name of the form will differ depending on your state, but it will be an affidavit confirming that you are the child’s father. If the mother disputes this, you will need to have a paternity test. It can be a blood test or a test where the inside of your cheek and your child’s cheek are swabbed with a cotton bud. Once you receive the results, assuming you are the father, you can confirm your paternity to assert your rights.
Why Fathers Have Rights
It is understood that, in general, children do better when they have a lot of contact with both of their parents. While it used to be common practice for mothers to do the bulk of the child-rearing, that is no longer the case. Fathers have an important role in bringing up their children. Kids who have fathers in their lives often do better in school, have healthier relationships, and end up more successful in life as adults.
Judges understand this and will usually do all they can to ensure that a loving father is allowed to spend time with his child. In many cases, parents will be granted joint custody. This means that the child will live with both parents approximately half the time (unless one parent lives far away from the other, which would necessitate creative scheduling). It also usually means that both parents will have equal rights to see their child’s medical records, to choose what school the child goes to, and to bring up the child in the religion of the parent’s choice. In some situations one parent is granted sole legal or physical custody, but this is becoming uncommon unless there is an extenuating circumstance.
There are some circumstances that make it unsafe or unfeasible for one parent to have joint custody of the child. In these cases, the remaining parent is usually given sole custody. If neither parent is fit to raise the child, the child might go to a grandparent or into the foster care system. Here are some of those circumstances:
- Child abuse. A parent who is abusive is not likely to get full or joint custody of the child. This also extends to domestic violence that was not directed toward the child. If you were abusive to your wife or girlfriend, you might not be considered fit to raise your child. In some cases, going through a case plan that includes anger management and parenting classes can help you gain the rights to have your child visit or live with you. In some cases, supervised visitation is necessary. And sometimes, a father who is abusive will lose all rights to his child.
- Drug or alcohol abuse or mental illness. If you have a mental health issue, including an addiction, that is untreated, you will not be able to have custody of your child until and unless you recover. This means that you will likely need to go to rehab or get mental health counseling and, in some cases, medication.
- Abandonment. If you have abandoned your child, it might be too late to return and ask for custody later. This will depend on your specific situation as well as the judge assigned to your case. It will also depend on how long you have been absent from your son’s or daughter’s life.
- Homelessness. If you are homeless, you are not able to provide a safe place for your child to live. This means that you might have custody or visitation limited until you can get yourself into safe housing that is appropriate for a child. Again, this will depend on your specific situation.
How to Assert Your Rights to Your Child
If you are having trouble getting rights to your child or if you don’t know about the process, it is important to get legal counsel. National Family Solutions is a legal advocacy group that works with fathers to help them regain their rights. Our services cost a fraction of what a private attorney would cost. Contact us today to find out if we are the right type of professional to manage your case and help you get access to your child.