Many men assume that when the mother of their child delivers, they are automatically granted legal fatherhood. It’s an easy conclusion to make. You helped conceive a child, therefore, you are its father. Legal fatherhood, called paternity, is actually more complicated than that.
Parenthood is automatically granted to mothers without question. Unless she was carrying the child as a surrogate, there’s no confusion about her being the mom. For men, however, there can be more uncertainty. If the woman had multiple partners, or if she was already pregnant when she married, the father’s identity is not automatically clear.
Moreover, the law can make it difficult for biological fathers to claim their children. When a woman is married and delivers a baby, her husband can be granted immediate fatherhood. It doesn’t matter if he is actually related to the child.
It can be easy to assume that paternity is unimportant. Some men think, “The mother and I get along, and we both agree that I’m the dad. What’s the big deal?”
The big deal is this: Without paternity, you have no legal claim to the child. No one can predict the future. There could come a day when the mother decides to take the child and cease communication with you. If you haven’t established your paternity, it’s possible to never see this child again.
In this article, we will explore several ways paternity protects your rights as a dad, and we will explain the process of establishing it.
Paternity Makes You a Permanent Father
By establishing paternity, you will always be the child’s father, and you will always have the rights associated with fatherhood.
There are, of course, ways an unfit parent can lose their rights. This is an uncommon situation, and it usually means that the parent is a direct threat to a child’s safety. As someone who cares enough to establish their paternity, you probably don’t fit this description.
Paternity Gives You Custody and Visitation Rights
Each situation is different, and your circumstances will always dictate your degree of custody and visitation. However, you have a right to some degree of each. The court is sensitive to a parent’s needs, and it wants to grant access to the kids whenever reasonable.
In California, custody is based on percentages. If your situation makes you unable to see your child for long periods, you can still gain a percentage of custody. Even at only 10%, you will have possession of the child for at least a few days a month.
Visitation is also taken very seriously. If you, for instance, are allowed to take the child out every other Friday, the other parent cannot block this. The same is true for scheduled phone calls or video chats. Because you established paternity, you have a legally protected right to this time.
Paternity Gives You the Right to Contribute
Regardless of how often you see the children, as their legal father, you can contribute to their wellbeing. There are several ways your child can benefit from your being their dad.
As the father, you can put a child on your health insurance. This helps if you have a better plan than the other parent, or if they are uninsured. You will know that your child’s medical needs are covered when needed.
The entire issue of child support is often misunderstood, and it has an unnecessarily bad reputation. To be clear, child support should not be a burden. When ordered correctly, it costs about the same as if you were living with the kids and still married.
To dispel another myth, both parents contribute to child support. It is based on both party’s incomes. The custodial parent contributes to child support directly by spending money on the children. The non-custodial parent sends payments to cover the difference.
Finally, child support is not a payment from one adult to another. The money does flow in that direction, but it goes directly to the children. Parents who use child support payments on themselves are in danger of legal repercussions.
At its best, child support is not a burden. It is a privilege. As the legal father, you can help contribute to your child’s wellbeing through child support. It is your right, and just like visitation, it cannot be blocked.
When everyone agrees on your fatherhood, establishing paternity should be no problem. You can simply file a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity with the courts. It requires the signature of both you and the mother, and once it clears, you are now a legal father.
If you face opposition, however, the process becomes more complicated. Perhaps the mother and her spouse don’t want your involvement, and they are fighting to grant paternity to that spouse. In that case, you can appeal to the courts with the help of an attorney.
In most cases, paternity is established within the first couple years of a child’s life. Sometimes, however, a father discovers a child later. In such scenarios, establishing paternity becomes quite complicated. Courts may need to order blood tests to verify claims. The mother can attempt to block the claim, a dispute that must be handled in court.
Be aware that courts can always deny your requests. Even in the early years of a child’s life, courts may believe that your involvement is not best for the child and block your paternity. In such cases, you need an attorney to help appeal these decisions.
Men can also have paternity forced upon them. A mother or a child over 12-years-old can claim you are a father, filing this claim with the courts. If this is a false accusation, it must be disputed with the help of a good lawyer. Sometimes a biological father does not wish to be involved, and he must officially renounce this claim and all his paternal rights. An attorney can help with this as well.
Getting Help from an Attorney
Whichever step of the paternity path you are on, seek help from a skilled attorney. Even something as simple as filing for voluntary paternity can get gummed up by bureaucracy. A lawyer can help keep the process running smoothly and make sure that everyone is moving forward. When you need help building a case for paternity, an attorney’s input will be invaluable. They can help you craft your argument, demonstrating your value to the child’s life.
If you need help with establishing paternity or with any other parents’ rights, we are here for you. Contact us online to schedule a consultation, or call our office at (949) 565-4158.