A non-biological father is a parent who is not related to the child by blood. Despite not being biologically related to the child, a non-biological parent can still obtain legal parental status by formally adopting the child. This is because a valid adoption enables a non-biological parent to gain full legal and physical custody of a child.
In some cases, a non-biological father can request that a family court grant them parental rights over a child, such as when they have acted as the child’s father from birth or if they are a stepfather who has developed a strong emotional bond with the child.
If a non-biological father is given full parental rights over the child, then they will have a say in child custody and child visitation matters, how to raise the child (e.g., educationally, spiritually, and medically), and to enter into legal agreements on behalf of the child.
Laws concerning the parental rights of a non-biological father may vary by state. Therefore, it may be in your best interest to consult a local family law attorney for further advice.
How Can the Non-Biological Father be the Legal Parent?
A non-biological father may assume legal rights over a child if they can demonstrate that they should be considered the child’s legal parent. If this is proven, then the court may grant the non-biological father all of the same parental rights as a biological parent. This means that if a dispute ever arises over child custody or child support, the non-biological father will be liable for making payments and adhering to child visitation schedules.
Some ways that a non-biological father can obtain the status of a legal parent include by legally adopting the child, signing the child’s birth certificate, undertaking the role of being the child’s father, and acting like the child’s father for an extended period of time (e.g., being married to the mother during the child’s birth, raising the child, making legal or medical decisions on behalf of the child, etc.).
Can a Biological Father Terminate a Non-Biological Father’s Parental Rights?
Terminating parental rights is exceedingly difficult. This is especially true in situations where a biological father has shown no interest in raising or caring for the child in the past. If a biological father wishes to terminate a non-biological father’s parental rights, they must file a paternity claim in family court.
If the court agrees to hear the case, the biological father may present arguments and evidence, such as paternity or DNA tests, that support why their request should be granted. However, just because a father can prove they are the child’s biological parent, does not mean the court will terminate a non-biological father’s parental rights.
For instance, if it would be against the best interests of the child or if the non-biological father was more of a parental figure than the actual father, then the court may decide to allow the non-biological father to preserve their legal parental status.
If the Father Isn’t on the Birth Certificate What Rights Does He Have?
A father who is not named on the child’s birth certificate may still have various rights. For example, if they were appointed as the child’s guardian, legally adopted or fostered the child, or became a de facto parent, then they may have many of the same rights as a person who holds legal parental status.
Other factors that can affect the types of parental rights a father has even if they are not listed on the child’s birth certificate include the emotional bond they have with the child, whether they helped to raise the child, how invested they are in the child’s life, and whether they make decisions on behalf of the child.
If the father can prove any of the above, then they may have standard parental rights (e.g., visitation rights, legal custody, etc.). If they cannot prove some of the above factors, but wish to obtain parental rights, they can take a DNA test to challenge the paternity of the person listed on the child’s birth certificate. It should be noted, however, that courts assign greater weight to the name on a birth certificate than they do to the results of a DNA test.
Fathers who cannot prove any of these scenarios may not have any rights over the child until they bring a successful challenge in court. Even then, a court may still rule that they have no rights to the child.
Can a Non-Biological Father Be a De Facto Parent?
A “de facto parent” typically refers to a person who is not biologically related to a child, but has provided for the child’s basic needs or regularly cares for that child. This can include an adult who interacts with the child on a daily basis or has developed a parental-like bond with the child. In other words, this person assumes the role and responsibilities of parenting a child when that child loses one or both their parents.
Also, in some states, like California, the law may allow for a child to have more than two legal parents. Some examples of persons who may take on the role of a de facto parent include the child’s grandparents, close relatives, stepparents, and non-relatives who already have a bond with the child. Non-relatives are usually only chosen if a close relative cannot be located or if placing the child with them would be in the child’s best interests.
Thus, if proven, a non-biological father may also fall under the categories of persons who can become a de facto parent. In order for a non-biological father to assume the role of a de facto parent, they must consistently demonstrate the following traits:
- At some point they lived with the child;
- They have a close relationship or emotional bond with the child;
- They accepted parental rights and responsibilities over the child;
- The amount of contact the de facto parent and child had in the past; and
- That the biological parent encouraged the de facto parent and child’s relationship.
One final thing to keep in mind about de facto parents is that the rules and requirements may differ based on jurisdiction. Thus, although the factors listed above are common traits found among successful cases, this does not mean they will be available or will apply to every case.
What Does the Court Take into Consideration in Granting Parental Rights?
Before a court makes a final ruling on issues involving parental rights, they must apply the child’s best interest standard to the facts first. Basically, the child’s best interest standard means that the court will need to make decisions based on what seems best or most appropriate for a particular child’s needs.
The court does this by examining a number of factors, including:
- The age of the child or children;
- The child’s wishes (if the court determines they are old enough);
- The physical, developmental, and emotional needs of a child;
- Whether there is any evidence of child abuse or domestic violence;
- The age, mental, and physical health of the child’s parents;
- The relationship between the child and each of the parents; and/or
- How well the parents can provide for the child (e.g., financially, stability, proximity to medical facilities, school, or social activities).
Although the above list contains many of the factors that courts will analyze in such cases, these factors can vary by state since each state has its own requirements and procedures for family law matters.
What Other Rights Do Non-Biological Parents Have Other than Child Custody?
In general, non-biological parents will typically have the same parental rights as those afforded to biological parents, so long as the law recognizes that a non-biological parent is in fact a child’s parent. For instance, a non-biological parent can achieve legal parental status by adopting a child through the proper channels. A valid adoption enables a non-biological parent to gain full legal and physical custody of a child.
Aside from child custody rights, non-biological parents may also exercise several other parental rights, such as:
- Establishing a relationship and maintaining contact with a child (i.e., visitation rights);
- Making decisions about fundamental matters that affect how a child is raised (e.g., medical treatments, educational matters, and religious upbringing);
- Passing property to a child through inheritance (e.g., wills, trusts, and estates);
- Deciding placement for a child (e.g., appointing a guardian if a non-biological parent becomes incapacitated or is deceased);
- Entering into a contract on behalf of a minor child; and
- Obtaining legal counsel for a child.
In addition, there may be other parental rights listed in a specific state statute. For example, according to New York state laws, a parent (or non-biological parent with legal parental status) must be consulted before their child receives a haircut. Parents in New York state must also give consent before their child gets a tattoo or body piercing.
Should I Seek an Attorney to Assist with a Child Custody or Parental Rights Case?
As a parent, it is important that you understand the legal rights you have to raise and maintain custody of your child. Thus, if you need assistance with a child custody or parental rights issue, it may be in your best interest to speak to a local child custody lawyer immediately for further guidance.
An experienced child custody lawyer can discuss the different types of parental rights you have under the law and can ensure that those rights are protected. Your lawyer can also help you navigate the various requirements and procedures for a child custody or a parental rights case, such as drafting legal documents to submit to the court, filing the necessary legal paperwork, corresponding with opposing counsel, and reaching a fair solution.
Finally, if you believe that the other parent is unfit to raise your child and that you should retain full custody of your child, your lawyer can file an emergency protective order with the court to make sure that your child is safe.