What Rights Do I Have as a Father?

It is not uncommon for fathers to feel that the deck is stacked against them when it comes to fighting for their parental rights in court. However, in California, both parents have equal rights and responsibilities when it comes to their children. Once someone is legally established as their child's parent, it is extremely difficult to terminate their parental rights. This is why it is so important that fathers who are not already legally recognized seek to establish their paternity of their children.

Establishing Paternity

When a child is born, the mother's parentage is assumed. This is not always the case for the child's father. In cases where the mother and father are married at the time of the child's birth, the father is presumed to be the child's legal parent. However, there are many family situations in which this narrow presumption is inadequate. For example, in cases where the mother and father aren't married or in same-sex relationships.

Other methods for establishing parentage may include:

  • Filing a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity
  • Genetic testing
  • Adoption

The courts also consider the father's conduct when presuming paternity. For example, if the father considered and behaved as if the child was their own (including paying for food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, etc.) and told other people the child was theirs, the courts may presume him to be the legal father. In situations where the child's paternity is unclear or contested, the court may order DNA testing of the child and the potential father.

Custody & Visitation

In California, the courts take both parents' rights and responsibilities very seriously, and their first priority is to ensure that the children's best interests are protected. This often means creating a custody arrangement that allows a child equitable access and meaningful visitation time with both parents. Consequently, a common custody arrangement is 50/50 custody, where the parents get equal time with their children.

In situations where parents do not have 50/50 custody, the non-custodial parent will often be granted visitation with their child to ensure that they can maintain a good relationship and have meaningful parenting time. These situations can be difficult, but they do not mean that the non-custodial parent is any less involved in the child's life. Nor does it automatically mean that the non-custodial parent is unfit in any way. In fact, non-custodial parents frequently still have joint legal custody of their children.

How Courts Determine Custody

Custody disputes are common, and many parents fight hard to get the most time possible with their children. These disputes can turn ugly, and many parents struggle to reach a custody agreement on their own. When this happens, the courts will step in.

When making custody determinations, the courts will consider:

  • The health and safety of the child
  • Any special needs the child may have
  • The nature of the child's relationship with both parents
  • The ability of each parent to provide for the child
  • Any location-related needs of the child, such as the need to stay in a specific school district

The courts will also consider any history of abuse or domestic violence and whether there is a history of substance abuse.

Fighting for Custody & Visitation

As a father, your relationship with your child matters. You deserve to have meaningful time with your child. However, there are situations in which one parent tries to use the children to punish the other parent and may seek to limit the other parent's time with their children. When this happens, you should seek representation from an experienced lawyer.

Our law firm understands how important your children are to you, and we fight hard for our clients. We also strive to provide our clients with the guidance they need to make legal decisions with confidence. If you are struggling with a paternity or custody matter, contact our firm for help.

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