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Fathers' Rights for Divorced Dads and Unmarried Fathers

Fathers' Rights & Factors That Can Interfere With the Ability to Exercise Them

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Fathers' rights are essentially the same as mothers', but they can be harder to enforce, simply because a mother's biological connection to her child is generally proven through childbirth, while some fathers must establish paternity before being able to fully exercise their parental rights. In addition, many of the factors listed below can, unfortunately, interfere with fathers' rights.

1. Fathers' Rights to Claim Paternity

Little girl enjoying a cupcake with her dad.
Marcy Maloy/Stone/Getty Images

In general, if you were married to your children's mother during the time they were conceived, it is presumed that you are the biological father. However, if you were not married at the time, you will need to establish paternity through your state's Office of Child Support Enforcement. This will simultaneously open the door to your right to request visitation, as well as your right--and duty--to support your child financially through child support, if deemed necessary.

Factors to Consider:
  • If the mother of your child was married to another man when your child was conceived, then the state may presume that that he is your child's father.
  • This is called the presumption of paternity, and can interfere with your right to claim paternity.

2. Fathers' Rights to Prevent Third-Party Adoption

If you are unmarried, and your ex is pregnant with a child you believe is yours, you can prevent the adoption of that child to a third party. If you are not in contact with your ex, or you suspect that she has gone elsewhere to facilitate an adoption without your consent, you can request that your name be added to your state's putative father registry.

Factors to Consider:
  • In cases where the biological father is voluntarily absent from the child's life, and the mother wishes to remarry, some states will permit a step-father to file for adoption.
  • Generally speaking, several attempts must be made to notify the birth father of such a pending adoption.
  • Notification may be made through public notices, newspaper announcements, etc.

3. Fathers' Rights to Provide Ongoing Financial Support

This right really reflects your children's right to be supported financially by both parents. As previously mentioned, establishing paternity will simultaneously open the door to your right to visitation, as well as your responsibility to support your children. You can use an online child support calculator to estimate how much child support you may owe, depending on factors such as your employment, financial history, and the number of children you support.

Factors to Consider:
  • Once a parent has fallen behind on child support, it can be extremely difficult to catch up.
  • Since child support and visitation are viewed differently by the courts, you should be able to continue regular visitations while attempting to pay the debt.

4. Fathers' Rights to Maintain an Ongoing Relationship With Their Children

You have the right to maintain an ongoing relationship with your children through phone calls and regular contact. Keep in mind, though, that this can be challenging, especially when your children are very young, and again when they become teenagers and start to develop their own busy lives. Work with your children's mother to establish an effective routine for staying in touch with your children.

Factors to Consider:
  • If you have been absent from your children's lives for any length of time, it can be difficult to step back in and resume your role.
  • You will likely need to regain your ex's trust by keeping your word and being consistent with regards to contacting your children, particularly when it comes to holidays and birthdays.

5. Fathers' Rights to Spend Time With Their Children Regularly

As your children's father, you have the right to establish and maintain a consistent visitation schedule. Making this schedule part of the regular family routine will make it easier on everyone.

Factors to Consider:
  • Again, if you've been an absent parent for a significant part of your children's lives, it can be difficult to step back in and resume visitations.
  • You will likely have to earn your ex's and your children's trust again.
  • In addition, if you lost visitation or custody due to domestic violence or drug or alcohol abuse, you may need to submit to supervised visitations for a period of time.
  • Be patient and do what is asked of you by the courts, so that you may eventually be able to resume regular visitations with your children.

6. Fathers' Rights to Make Collaborative Decisions

Fathers who share legal custody of their children have the right and responsibility to collaborate with their children's mother on issues such as education, religion, and medical care.

Factors to Consider:
  • Before granting joint legal custody, many family court judges want to see proof that both parents are able to collaborate effectively regarding everyday decisions related to child-rearing.
  • Do your part to collaborate with your ex regarding parenting decisions.
  • When disagreements arise, remain calm and communicate with one another clearly.

7. Fathers' Rights to Co-parenting and/or Joint Custody

Some states now recognize that in cases where both parents were equally involved prior to a divorce or separation, it is important for the well-being of the children for that pattern of equal involvement to continue. To find out more about your state's stance on shared parenting, become familiar with the child custody laws of your jurisdiction. Know, too, that co-parenting has many different implications. Some co-parents share physical custody, and others do not.

Factors to Consider:
  • Again, courts want to see that parents can and will work together effectively before granting joint physical custody or equal parenting time.
  • Do your part to collaborate peacefully and effectively regarding all parenting decisions.
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