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[ fathers rights and duties ]

a fathers' rights and duties

Pregnancy raises a number of important concerns for a woman, especially if her partner is absent or otherwise unwilling to participate in the parenting process. This document attempts to address a number of the most commonly asked legal questions about the father's responsibilities and rights.

Note: While this article attempts to address some of the most common questions raised by single mothers, it is not intended as a substitute for legal advice from a competent attorney.

common questions

Do I have to put the father's name on the birth certificate?

Mothers have the option of putting "Unknown" or "Refuse to State," in place of the father's name. However, leaving his name off the birth certificate will not prevent him from claiming his paternal rights. He may be able to have his name added to the birth certificate.

Do I have to tell the authorities who the father is, even if he's not on the birth certificate?

To receive public assistance you will most likely be required to provide the father's name as well as his last known address. The authorities may then attempt to force him to make child support payments to you. If you will not collect child support from him, then you will probably not be eligible for public assistance.

What do I need to do to collect child support?

You should immediately begin legal proceedings to establish the father-child relationship and determine a visitation schedule. This action can be taken before the child is born. The local District Attorney's office may help you with your paternity action even if you are not receiving public assistance, or you can find your own attorney.

If the father voluntarily signs a "Declaration of Paternity" form, his fatherhood is automatically assumed which will facilitate the collection of child support without the necessity of court proceedings. If the father denies paternity, a paternity test will be necessary. This involves taking a blood sample from the baby after it's born followed by genetic testing. You should be aware that, if you are awarded child support, the father will have a right to visit the child.

If the father doesn't make child support payments, can I stop his visitation? Or, if he stops visiting the children can he also stop making support payments?

No. Child support and visitation are independent rights of the child and are not contingent on each other. Even if you were to actively interfere with the father's visitation rights, he would still have a legal duty to pay child support. The reason for this rule is that children should not be left without support because of the misconduct of their parents. Also, since child support and visitation are independent rights, both for the benefit of the child, neither can be legally denied because of the illegal behavior of a parent.

May the father and I write up our own agreement regarding child support and visitation?

Yes, you may write up your own agreement but neither a court nor the child are bound by it. Therefore, if one of you breaches the agreement, the other parent cannot enforce it. It is still a good idea to try to come up with an agreement between the two of you and the father and then see if the court approves it. The child, however, has independent rights to establish a parent-child relationship with the father and to ensure the father's support. Therefore, an agreement between you and the father does not remove the child's rights. A child's parents have equal responsibility to support their child in the best way possible. Equal responsibility exists regardless of which parent the child is living with.

If the father wants to be involved with the child, what should he do?

Even before the baby is born, the father should begin the legal process in the form of a paternity action. Without a court order, custody and visitation rights may be difficult for him to establish. From the moment of conception, he should hold himself out as the father and receive the child into his home once he or she is born. In addition, he should help support the child financially.

How does paternity testing work?

The mother, father and baby must be tested either voluntarily or through a court order. The blood test can tell whether the man is definitely not the father but cannot tell whether he definitely is. Genetic testing is the only way to conclusively prove that he is the father.

What rights does the baby's father have in relation to abortion?

The father has no rights in regards to abortion, even if you are married. This means that he cannot legally force you to have an abortion if you do not want one.

What rights does the father have in relation to adoption?

Generally, the father has rights in regard to the adoption of his child which include receiving notice of the adoption and being given an opportunity to contest the adoption.

Source: Legal information adapted from "Father's Rights and Duties," by T. Glessner, NIFLA, 3(6),3-96.

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