Fathers' Rights in a Divorce or Separation

Child custody and visitation rights for dads

Protecting Your Rights as a Dad

As a dad, you may feel like you don't get the recognition you deserve. It's bad enough when friends or family members assume that moms do all of the work related to kids or when TV shows and commercials portray fathers as bumbling and incompetent parents. It's even worse when the idea that dads are less-involved parents affects the decisions made in family court. As a father who is closely involved in your kids' lives, you'll need to fight against this perception, and you might need to make an extra effort to protect your parental rights when getting divorced or addressing other family law matters.

Understanding Fathers' Rights

It's true that mothers are often perceived as the parents who are more closely involved in raising children. However, most state laws do not share this bias, and when parents get divorced, or when unmarried parents need to address child-related issues, courts are instructed to treat parents equally and base their decisions on what is in the children's best interests. Unfortunately, even when the laws explicitly say that fathers and mothers have equal rights, dads often still have to fight against people's beliefs and expectations.

When settling issues in family court, you should be aware of your rights as a father in the following areas:

  • Child custody - Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions about your child's upbringing, education, medical care, and other important issues. You deserve to share in these important decisions in the same manner as you did while you were together with your kids' mom. You also have the right to access important information related to your kids, such as medical records or report cards.
  • Visitation - Most state laws presume that parents are fit to care for their children, while stating that they have the right to reasonable amounts of time with kids. You should be able to create a parenting schedule that will allow you to maintain a relationship with your kids similar to what you've had in the past. If you've been your kids' primary caretaker, you may be able to receive the majority of the parenting time, serving as the custodial parent.
  • Child support - You may be required to provide financial support to meet your kids' ongoing needs. Depending on state laws, this support may be based on both your income and the other parent's income. The amount of support you're required to pay shouldn't make it impossible for you to provide for your own needs. If you're named the custodial parent of your children, you have the right to receive child support from their mother.
  • Child relocation - If your ex decides to move to a new home, and this would affect the time you have with your kids or your ability to make decisions about their upbringing, you have the right to contest this relocation. You may be able to show that the move would not be in your children's best interests, since it would negatively affect your relationship with them, and the court may not allow the move to take place.
  • Consent for adoption - You have the right to either consent or object if your ex decides to put your child up for adoption. In cases involving step-parent adoption, you'll need to consent to have your parental rights terminated. If you weren't married when your child was born, you may first need to establish paternity so that you can protect your parental rights.

When you need to take steps to protect your rights as a father, you'll want to work with a family law attorney who is experienced in the laws in your state. Your lawyer can make sure you understand the protections the law provides to you and your kids, and they can help you determine the best approach as you fight to make sure you can continue to be the dad your children need.

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