Being an unmarried father can be pretty difficult, particularly when you are trying to hold down a job; maybe you are still at school or you may be trying to work and still study at the same time.
The birth of a child should be a happy time, but as the unmarried father of a child, you probably know that the arrival of your baby son or daughter also means a legally testing time. In fact, many fathers have lost custody of their children all because they didn’t know the rules of Family Law. Your rights and obligations though, depend largely on individual state laws. What you need is the right information that can help you understand the Family Law system. For your child’s sake, you need to know what your unmarried fathers rights are. The National Fathers’ Resource Center (NFCR) is one of the largest fathers’ rights organizations in the U.S and they are all about assisting fathers, children, and families.
When it comes to unmarried fathers and child support, each state has its own procedures for child support, based on the policy that both parents should financially support their children. The judge will determine the child support amount, but if the mother has sole custody, you as the father will need to pay child support. You can consult a family law attorney to understand your rights as well as other queries you may have.
Each state has different laws about child custody, and to complicate things even more, these laws change over time. For this reason it is important for fathers to consult an attorney about their own specific custody case. In some states, for instance, an unmarried father actually has no rights to his child and to obtain rights he would be required to either marry the mother of his child or file a petition to legitimate the child. If the unmarried father has not legitimated his child, he simply has no rights and can be prevented from having contact with the child.
Some Fathers want to take Parental Responsibility
As an unmarried father, you may think that because you are the biological father, you automatically have a right to parental responsibility. Sadly, even though your name appears on your child’s birth certificate, it doesn’t automatically mean you get parental responsibility. Without parental responsibility, you don’t have a legal say in your child’s upbringing.
What does Parental Responsibility Actually Entail?
- provides a safe haven for your child and provides it with protection
- disciplining the child
- providing quality education for the child
- providing medical help when the child is sick
- giving the child a name
- allowing, when necessary, confidential information about your child to be disclosed
Fathers do not always have parental responsibility for their children, and while there are young fathers who could care less for their children, there are plenty who want to take responsibility, watch their child grow and have a part in its life. You have the right to maintain an ongoing relationship with your children which can be done through visitation and through phone calls. Try and work amicably with your child’s mother to establish an effective visiting routine. Getting parental responsibility will mean you can either:
- apply to the courts to get a parental responsibility order
- marry the mother
- be appointed as the child’s guardian
- enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
- you will need to show that you have a genuine interest in your child and that your reason for applying is in the interests of the child.
While the law does not define in fine detail what parental responsibility is, there are unmarried fathers who want to do the right thing and they go about seeking recognition of their legal rights in raising their children.
Today as an unmarried father wanting to have a say in your child’s life, you will be pleased to know that in some states you are entitled to a say in your child’s schooling and their medical treatments and you will also have a right to see them regularly if you are not living with the mother.
On the other hand visitation rights of the legal father living in Ohio for instance are not in your favor, and the unmarried mother is the sole custodian of the child. Every state has different laws regarding the rights of unmarried parents, but in most states, for the father to exercise his rights regarding his child, he will need to establish that he is in fact the child’s father. As the number of unwed parents are on the increase, the laws surrounding the rights of parents are forever changing in keeping with this rising phenomena.
On the Internet there are websites of organizations who offer guidance on understanding the rights of unmarried fathers:
- Alliance for Non-Custodial Parents’ Rights (ANCPR) which helps non-custodial parents with issues around custody and visitation rights.
- The Fatherhood Coalition – a non-profit organization whose aim it is to stop discrimination against unmarried and divorced fathers and promote shared parenting
- United Fathers of America – they help fathers with visitation rights, custody, divorce, paternity and child support problems
- American Coalition for Fathers and Children. They are also a non-profit organization in support of shared parenting.
These sites will assist you in the following:
- to understand legal terms and definitions
- to understand how family law attorneys work
- with easy steps to help your custody case
- with information on mediation and court preparation
Make Sure Your Name is on Your Baby’s Birth Certificate
Some fathers who are not aware of the legalities surrounding parental rights laws may find that because of their lack of knowledge, they have lost the battle for custody of their child. So how can you guarantee your rights then so you may maintain access to your child?
The first and foremost thing to do when your baby is born, is to ensure your name appears on the birth certificate along with the mother of your baby. This can be done through your state’s Office of Child Support Enforcement. This establishes you as the legal father. If you are an unmarried father, it is imperative to understand the laws that affect your situation. If the mother of your baby challenges your claim of paternity, you may need to start a paternity case.
Who is the Legal Father?
All states have statutory definitions of what a father is, and for some states it is the man whose name appears on the child’s birth certificate; for some it will be the man who has been determined by the court to be the father of the child, while in other states it will be the man who has been named in an affidavit by the mother of the child stating that he is the child’s father.
After establishing that you are the father of the child, as an unmarried father you have the same right to custody of your child just like one who is married. Custody can be either full-time or shared with the mother.
Sometimes it is possible that an amicable agreement around the custody is reached out of court between you and the mother. If you as a father are looking for full custody of your child, you can petition the court for custody, and then you will have to prove to the court that you are responsible and able to take care of your child.
Rights over an Unborn Child and Adoption
There are no legal steps you can take to stop the mother of your unborn child from aborting your baby. And if she is talking about putting the baby up for adoption, you will want to prevent this, but you will only have a say if you are providing financial support during her pregnancy. Do you know what the laws of your particular state say about the adoption of your unborn child? You should contact an attorney who is knowledgeable on what process to follow to prevent an adoption.
What Rights do you Have if the Mother Marries?
You will be happy to know that the rights you already have won’t change if the mother of your child marries someone else, and you will still be required to maintain your child if the new husband does not adopt your child. If you are already a joint guardian you will remain so. If the mother and her new husband want to adopt your child, you have the right to be consulted before any adoption and your consent is required before an adoption order can be made.
If the mother of your child tells you that you can’t see your child because you haven’t paid maintenance, check this out with your lawyers because these are two separate issues entirely, and contact with your child is not dependent on whether you are paying maintenance or not. In this day and age, with the Fathers’ Rights Movement and all, it is the child’s right to have access to both parents, regardless of finances.
What Rights do You have with Visitation?
Once it has been established that you as an unmarried father are the legal father of the child, you have the right to child visitation. If you are able to, it is always better, in the interests of your child, to plan and work on visitation with the mother of your child, but if she refuses to co-operate then you can petition the courts to award you visitation rights.
You can also look for a custody mediator who can help you sort out details of visitation rights. These mediators are impartial and can help you reach an agreement on custody and visitation. Look at www.mediate.com for more information. Some states require mediation if you have disputed custody or visitation issues. If you go through the court system to secure visitation rights, have an attorney who will be able to help you with the paperwork and legal issues. If you still have problems getting the mother of your child to heed the court order once it is granted, you will need to return to court and file for contempt of the court order.
What about Relocation?
It can be devastating for you if you discover that the mother of your child has decided to move to another state, taking your child with her. Do you know the laws to fight a relocation, and what are your rights as regards retaining visitation rights? In most states you should be notified well in advance of the upcoming move. You can file an objection to the relocation to stop the mother from relocating. Some states actually require father’s consent to allow the move. Every state differs but some of the more common considerations are:
- the age of the child
- your involvement as the father with your child
- how other people in the child’s life may be affected by the move
- will the move benefit the child?
- what are the mother’s motives for moving? It could be legit but it could also be to simply deny you access to your child
Fathers’ Rights Movement
As a young father wanting to do the best for your child, you will be glad to hear that the Children’s Bill has replaced the Child Care Act of 1983, and its focus is on providing a holistic approach to the rights of all children. Not only that the changes are in keeping with the purposes of the Fathers’ Rights Movement which came about when it was realized that fathers were not receiving equal rights and treatment in child custody litigation.
The members of the movement are interested in all issues related to family law as well as child custodies that affect fathers. The members are fathers like you who want to be part of the parenting process. The Fathers’ Rights Groups also refer to research and studies which show that when a father is absent from the raising of a child, all kinds of negative behavior patterns can start manifesting themselves in the child.
There are quite a few lawyers these days who are seen as firms who are for the rights of fathers and who have special skills and expertise in litigating custody cases on behalf of fathers. When you find yourself in a custody dispute, it is a good idea to get the best legal representation you can find.
There are a number of factors to take into account when determining whether unmarried parents are to be awarded sole or joint custody child support. The court’s focus is on placing the child where it will receive the best upbringing. It is important as an unmarried father to make sure you pay maintenance or support as agreed to make access to your child that much easier. Most times both parents try to reach an amicable agreement in terms of support, visitation rights and custody.