Visitation rights are awarded to the noncustodial parent in divorce and child custody proceedings. These rights allow the parent time to visit with their child. All decisions regarding custody and visitation are made with the child’s best interest standard. In general, it is best for the child to have a meaningful and healthy relationship with both of their parents. Therefore, it is rare that a court will refuse visitation rights to a parent entirely.
When deciding which parent should receive custody, and which should receive child visitation rights, courts may also consider the following:
- The daily schedule of each parent, such as their work and life schedules;
- The current employment and work history of each parent; and
- The location of each parent.
A father’s right to visitation simply means that the child’s biological father has as much right to spend time with their child as the mother does. In the past, the law was stacked against fathers, and mothers were often granted full custody rights whether or not they were best suited for the role. That is no longer the case, and a parent’s gender does not typically have any bearing on the visitation rights they will receive as the noncustodial parent.
Regardless of which parent is granted visitation rights, those rights include:
- The right to visit their child at a designated time, as is prescribed in the divorce decree;
- The right to schedule any allowed activities with the child, which are also detailed in the divorce decree;
- The right to be free of the other parent’s control during visitation;
- The right to spend the entire allotted time with the child, with no infringement;
- The right to an injunction in order to stop the other parent from moving the child out of state; and
- The right to modify the divorce decree when it is no longer feasible.
Although some states do still use guidelines pertaining to traditional gender specific roles, and award the mother custody as the presumed caretaker, it is unconstitutional to do so. Most states have progressed to a gender neutral approach and recognize that this is not always in the child’s best interest.
Father’s rights also come with non-rights, or restrictions on what actions they may take as a father. For example, fathers do not have the right to withhold child support payments, even if the child’s mother violates the father’s visitation rights. Additionally, a father does not have the right to verbally attack their child’s mother to enforce his visitation rights.
In order to gain access to your rights as your child’s biological father, paternity must first be established. If you were married to the child’s mother at the time of the child’s birth, it is likely that paternity will automatically be established. If not, you will need to legally establish paternity by signing and filing an acknowledgement of paternity with the court. This is typically done at the time of the child’s birth with the child’s birth certificate. The child’s mother will also need to sign this acknowledgement.
Some states do have a statute of limitations as to how long a father has to establish their paternity. Eventually, the court will provide a ruling as to who the child’s biological father is, and that father may pursue any child custody and parental rights. An unmarried father will have no legal rights to visitation or child custody without first establishing paternity.
Father’s visitation rights are not necessarily automatically granted even when paternity is established. You should be prepared to undergo a thorough analysis by the court in which they will consider your relationship with your child, your background, and your mental health.
Additionally, any history of criminal activity, domestic violence, or abuse may also impact the court’s decision. Remember, it is rare for courts to entirely deny visitation rights. It is important to remember that this is all done in order to ensure your child is safe, and their best interests are being looked after.
Family law is complicated and varies from state to state. Additionally, sometimes established guidelines such as divorce decrees and visitation schedules need modification in order to ensure each parent is not violating these legally binding documents.
Therefore, if you are in a situation where you are seeking custody or visitation rights as a father, it is in your best interest to consult with a skilled and knowledgeable father rights attorney. An experienced attorney can help you understand your state’s specific laws, ensure your rights to visitation are protected, and assist you in any necessary modification processes. Additionally, they can assist you in building up your case for any additional visitation or custody rights while representing you in court, if necessary.