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What is the History of Father’s Rights in Child Custody and Visitation?

When it comes to the rights of fathers with regard to child custody and visitation, courts used to follow strict presumptions about the genders of the parents and child-rearing. That is, in the past, courts used to follow guidelines shaped by traditional gender-specific roles of fathers and mothers. The notion was that the father was considered to be the breadwinner for the family, while the mother was expected to be responsible for child-rearing.

Thus, in situations where the parents were separated or divorced, courts would often award custody to the mother, so she could focus on raising the child. Meanwhile, the father was often granted visitation rights, so they could focus on earning money and contributing child support.

Older laws also made various conclusions regarding presumed fathers (non-biological fathers being treated as if they were the father, based on their actions and relationship to the child or mother).

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What are Father’s Rights in Child Custody and Visitation Today?

Currently, states for the most part have adopted a more gender-neutral approach, dropping the traditional notions of breadwinner vs. child caretaker, and examining the relationship between the parties on a case-by-case basis.

What this means is that fathers are no longer automatically granted visitation rights and the mother granted more custody rights, as in the past. Instead, courts will look at each case and determine what works best for the child. That is, most child custody and visitation determinations will be made according to the “child’s best interest standard”.

This means that courts will look at the background, work arrangements, and other factors of each parent, and determine which custody and visitation arrangement fits best for the child (not the interests of either parent). For instance, if the child already has a well-established relation to the father as their caretaker, then courts might grant the father custody rather than the mother.

What is the Standard for Child Custody and Visitation?

As mentioned, child custody and visitation arrangements are now made according to the child’s best interest standard, and not according to traditional societal notions attributed to each parent.

Thus, custody rights for fathers have effectively expanded in recent times. They are no longer automatically presumed to be just a breadwinner who can visit from time to time. Instead, courts will look closely at all the factors and create an arrangement which best benefits the child or children. If this means that the father should have physical custody, then that is what courts will conclude in the custody/visitation arrangement.

However, this doesn’t mean that more traditional arrangements may still result. Courts may still award the mother with more custody rights if this is in the child’s best interest. In determining the child’s best interest, courts will examine many factors, including:

  • The child’s background, such as their gender, age, educational level, and whether they have any medical or psychological/emotional needs;
  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child;
  • Each parent’s current and previous relation to the child; and
  • Various other factors, including the living situation and home environment for the child.
  • What are a Father’s Rights Relating to Paternity?
  • In most cases, before the court gets to the broader questions of custody and visitation, they must often determine that the person has paternity rights. A person who is granted paternity may then be eligible for various child and visitation rights normally available only to the child’s father.

In many instances, a paternity test can conclusively determine whether a person is the biological father of a child. If so, they will then be granted various paternity rights as well, including custody and visitation determinations as the court sees fit.

In many instances, a person who is not the biological father of the child can still obtain parenting rights. These include situations such as:

  • Non-biological fathers who have raised the child as their own and have developed a parent-child relationship already;
  • Adoptive fathers; and
  • Various other parties like grandparents (in rare cases).

What are Some Other Issues Related to Paternity?

Just as courts may need to establish paternity, there are many instances where the parties may be interested in contesting paternity. This is common in cases where there may be a dispute over custody or visitation rights.

For example, it may be the case that one person is claiming that they are the biological father of a child, and are seeking to establish new custody or visitation rights for themselves. If another person is already claiming custody and visitation rights, they may seek to challenge the paternity of the person claiming they are the biological father. If it is shown that the person is not the biological father, then that person might be disqualified from gaining custody or visitation rights.

Lastly, one issue to consider is whether the person has their name listed on a birth certificate as the child’s father. Under most state family laws, if a person is already named as the father of a child on the child’s birth certificate, then they are presumed to be the legal father for all purposes. This includes any determinations related to child custody or visitation. In such cases, the presumption of paternity can be very strong and difficult to contest.

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Do You Need a Lawyer for Your Issue with Father’s Rights?

Child custody and visitation issues can be complex and may require the assistance of an attorney. They can also change over time as the needs of the child change, and as the abilities of the parents change also.

It is important that you contact a family law attorney near you if you need help with any father’s rights issues. Your attorney can break down the laws in your state for you and can provide representation during family law court meetings.

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