If you are going through a separation or divorce, it’s natural that you, as a father, would be concerned about your rights. Certainly, you want to continue to have a good relationship with your child, even if you do not get along well with his or her mother. In addition, you might be worried about whether you will continue to have the right to make decisions for your child, whether you will be able to afford child support payments, and even what would happen to your custody arrangements if you should choose to remarry in the future. The good news is that you do have rights. Here are some of the rights that fathers have when going through a divorce or breakup.
A Father Has the Right to Pursue Joint Custody
In decades past, custody of a child after a divorce was often granted to the mother. It was erroneously believed that mothers, by nature, are the parents who should be raising children in the event that the father was no longer living in the family home. Now, judges know that this is not necessarily true. As the father, you have the right to pursue, and in most cases, get joint custody. In addition, if you believe that the mother of your child is unfit and cannot keep him or her safe, you might even be entitled to sole custody. This is particularly true if the child’s mother has abandoned the family.
It is important to understand that joint custody does not necessarily mean that you will have physical custody of the child 50 percent of the time. There are two types of child custody: physical and legal. Most of the time, fathers are talking about physical custody when they say they want joint custody; this means that you will have access to your child and that he or she will spend time in your home. In most cases, it won’t be split evenly down the middle; school obligations and location of both parental homes will determine whether it’s a feasible option in your case.
A Father Has the Right to a Fair Child Support Payment
Gone are the days when a dad is automatically assumed to have to pay a large amount of child support. If your ex is or was a stay-at-home mom, then you might have a fairly high bill to pay each month. If, however, she has been working and makes a salary that’s comparable to yours, you might not have to pay any at all. In fact, if she makes more than you do and you have joint custody of your child or if the child lives with you most of the time, then she might end up paying you child support.
The way that child support is determined depends on the state. In most states, it’s based on both parents’ income levels. Your house payment and some other bills will be taken into consideration if it turns out that you need to pay child support. Do keep in mind that you must abide by the child support judgment even if you don’t agree with it; you can always appeal and ask for a modification if the circumstances warrant it, but you cannot simply decide not to pay or to pay less on your own.
A Father Has the Right to Make Decisions for His Child
When your child is at your house, you have the right to parent as you see fit. This means that if your child’s mother chooses to eat only organic foods, she cannot dictate to you that you must feed your child a similar diet, for example. You can also use different discipline methods, use a different babysitter, and have different rules at your house.
Keep in mind that while you have the right to make these types of decisions, it’s generally better for the child if some things are consistent at both houses. This can cut down on confusion, particularly for younger children. Try to talk to your child’s mother about household rules, discipline measures, and diet and see if you can come to an agreement that will minimize disruption and confusion, if possible.
A Father Has the Right to Date or Remarry
You might be concerned that your ex-wife will demand that any new girlfriends or, if you choose to remarry, your new wife be cleared by her before they can spend time with your child. As your child’s father, however, you are allowed to date and remarry without her agreement. Unless there is some reason to believe otherwise, it’s assumed by the court that you will make decisions in the best interest of your child and that you would not date or marry someone who poses a risk to your child’s health or safety.
Of course, if you were to date or marry someone who was abusive or otherwise acting in a way that is detrimental to your child, then you might find yourself back in court. It’s possible, in that case, that your girlfriend or wife might not be able to have contact with your child. The vast majority of the time, however, this is not an issue and your custody arrangements will not be affected by any new relationships you have.
A Father Has the Right to His Child’s School and Medical Records
As mentioned above, there are two types of custody: physical and legal. Having joint legal custody means that you have the right to have input on decisions regarding your child’s education and medical treatment. Unless otherwise stated in the judgment, you can request a conference with your child’s teacher or ask for copies of school records. You can also make your child appointments with dental and medical professionals, accompany them to their office visits, and obtain copies of their medical or dental records.
Knowing your rights as a father will help you achieve the best possible custody arrangements in the best interest of your child. A legal resource center like National Family Solutions can provide father’s rights help for understanding what they are and how you can assert them by petitioning the court and creating a parenting plan with your child’s mother.