What Rights Do I Have as a Father?
Depending on the type of case you are involved in, you will likely have very different rights as a Father.
The law treats Fathers very differently depending on the situation. Unfortunately, the law has not afforded all of the protections that Mothers have for Fathers yet.
For example, if you have a two-month-old child, but were never married to the mother and have not had any court proceedings yet, as a father you have very limited rights to the child. This is because paternity has not been established. There is usually a presumption that you are the biological father if your name is on the birth certificate. However, the law will not fully recognize you as the biological father until there is an actual court order declaring you as the natural father.
What this means is that your rights will be limited until you seek court intervention. The mother at this point has full control of the well-being decisions regarding the child, as well as how often you will see the child. If you call the police because you have not seen your child, the police will likely not get involved, especially without a court order.
With that being said, it is very important that you have a court order establishing paternity and giving you a set parenting time schedule. Without this you will be very limited in what you can do with your child. Even if you have a good relationship with the mother at this time, it is best to protect yourself in case of future conflict. The document you would need to file is a Petition to Establish Parenting Time, Legal Decision-Making, and Child Support. This would eventually end in a court order with set parenting time for you, and possible legal rights over the child’s well-being, as well as a child support order for either you or the mother.
Now what if you are married to the mother of your child? What rights do you have in that situation? For example, say your child’s mother — your wife — takes your child out of state without your permission. Your wife tells you she does not know when she is coming back and she prefers that you do not contact her or your child. Can you do anything without court intervention? Unfortunately, you cannot. Your wife had every right to go out of state with the child without informing you. However, this is something you could have done as well. There is no law that requires you or your wife to give notice to each other if you are leaving the state with the child.
If, however, this happens to you, you will need to file something with the court immediately. It is recommended that you file for either a legal separation or divorce at this point and request temporary orders for the immediate return of your child, as well as a temporary parenting plan that would prohibit your wife from leaving the state with your child again.
In each of the above situations, fathers may feel as though they are unprotected by the law. However, keep in mind that as soon as you file something with the court, you likely will begin to have those rights that the mother has. The best advice in those situations is to not wait.