Unwed Fathers Have Rights Too
Unwed fathers are often framed in a negative stereotype, but that pigeonholing isn’t appropriate to many. On the contrary, most simply want to claim their parental rights, enjoy the benefits of being a parent, and live up to the responsibilities that come with fatherhood. Unfortunately, as many as 75 percent of these men aren’t cohabitating or even in a relationship with the mother, and that can complicate matters significantly.
Pre-Planning to Be Legally Recognized as a Parent
Avoid missing the opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive. If you’re an unwed man who knows that he will soon — as in during the next nine months — become a father, then the time to act is now rather than later. A Hackensack family attorney can consult with you, advise on the preliminary steps you should take, and help you gather the evidence that will streamline the process down the road.
Petitioning for Custody and/or Visitation
Often, the first step to being legally recognized as the father is filing a petition. A Hackensack family attorney can prepare, file, and pursue that petition on your behalf. The mother’s response will often determine how the petition unfolds. If the mother doesn’t contest the paternity, then the process moves on to establishing visitation rights, child support, custody, and so forth depending on your goals. Otherwise, it may be necessary to prove paternity to the courts. Note that visitation rights and custody aren’t the same thing, and legal custody doesn’t necessarily mean primary custody, which is where you designate the child’s main residence.
If paternity is contested by the mother, then your attorney will likely petition the court for what’s known as a paternity determination. Once this petition is filed, the court will usually order DNA testing for the father, the mother, and the child. DNA testing is a noninvasive process that generally only requires swabbing the inside of each person’s mouth. The involved parties often are permitted to oversee private DNA testing as long as they use a certified laboratory. After the lab receives the samples, it takes about three to four weeks to receive the results, which are generally deemed to be at least 99 percent accurate. If the testing confirms paternity, then the process can move on to visitation and other facets of the case.
Making a Case for Custody
The courts often prefer the biological mother for primary custody unless there are extenuating circumstances. Many biological fathers simply want custody that allows them a relationship with their children. If you want primary custody, however, then you’re going to have to make a case for it. Often, this will involve demonstrating bad parenting by the mother or at least the potential for it. Some of the factors that the courts may take into consideration include:
- Criminal history
- Alcohol and drug abuse
- Boyfriends and other associates
- Reports of neglect to child protection agencies
The Final Decree
When the court has made its decision and all agreements concerning visitation and the like are reached, this is referred to as the final decree. It’s important to note that this term as understood by a layman can be inaccurate. It actually isn’t final, and that doesn’t occur until the child reaches 18 years old. Therefore, if the situation changes, it’s possible to petition the courts to review and perhaps update the final decree.
If you’re a father striving to be recognized as such, then the Law Office of Kelly Berton Rocco would like the chance to meet with you and evaluate your case. Our law firm accepts many different types of parental rights cases, and we recognize the importance of fathers in their children’s lives. You can arrange a consultation with a Hackensack family attorney at our office by calling (201) 343-0078 or contacting us through email today. Our attorney will strive to address any concerns or questions you may have.