The family law system has traditionally favored mothers, sometimes leaving fathers disconnected from the program, and their children. Though this aspect has changed drastically over the last couple of decades, there are still plenty of improvements to be made.
The first challenge, particularly for unwed fathers, is establishing paternity. A mother who is unmarried and no longer in a relationship with the father of her child will more likely than not give birth absent the presence of the father, excluding him from being named on the birth certificate as the biological father. A mother’s name will always appear on a child’s birth certificate, but not necessarily the father’s. In this case, the father will need to petition the court to establish paternity.
The mother will have the responsibility of responding to the petition while a court hearing will be pending. She will either contest the petition or stipulate the paternity. If the petition is contested, then the court will order a paternity test, the cost of which the possible father will likely bear, unless he is eligible for a fee waiver. Regardless, until paternity is established, a father, unfortunately, will have few rights or none at all.
Determining Custody and Visitation
Establishing paternity is just the first step. Once that is accomplished, custody and visitation will still need to be settled. Securing legal custody rights as a father can be a lengthy legal battle. Ideally, arrangements should be made between mother and father without a third party facilitator. The problem begins if there is a disagreement between the two parents. The mother might retract any previous (usually oral) agreement, holding the child hostage and refusing visitation.
Nobody deserves to have their right to parent unfairly stripped away. Naturally, a child needs a constant, regular relationship with both parents. A father’s rights are equal to those of the mother, but decisions and orders made by the family court system in the past have not always displayed that ideal. As long as a father maintains regular employment, a stable and safe home, and all of the necessary emotional and financial support for his child, there is no reason that he should not have equal legal custody rights along with reasonable visitation. With the right legal team, this goal can be accomplished.
Rights to Travel Outside the Jurisdiction
Another reason why fathers deserve more legal custody rights is to have a voice as to when, where, and with whom he will allow his child to travel. If he or the other parent intends to travel outside of the state or the country, it should not be a unilateral decision, but one jointly made by both parents. It may not seem relevant at the outset, but there will inevitably be a desire for one parent or the other to travel outside of the jurisdiction with the minor child. Including this issue when determining legal custody and custody rights will be essential, and there should be a clear and concise plan, protocol and boundaries set.
Now is an opportune time for fathers to have presence in the family court system and preserve their legal custody rights. All parents have rights, including fathers. The Law Office of Omar Gastelum and Associates, PLC is a well-established home to an experienced, passionate, and hardworking legal team that understands the importance of a father’s legal custody rights. Contact the Gastelum firm today — the sooner a father’s legal custody rights are established, the more balanced the entire family unit can be.