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PARENTING CHILDREN BORN OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE
Paternity is the name for cases filed by parents-generally Fathers-to establish legal rights to children born outside of a marriage relationship.
These cases identify the child’s legal parents, and thereby establish legal parenting rights: the rights to love, nurture and educate your child. These cases typically also establish child support, rights of custody, and schedules for visitation. A Mother normally has the right to recover some or most of her past expenses. All of these issues depend on the individual circumstances of the case.
What every Father should know is that no legal rights of parenthood exist for you without a court order establishing the paternity of the child. A Mother can establish paternity rights simply with birthing records. Fathers raising children in a legal marriage have paternity rights because they are presumed by law to be the fathers of those children. But a Father of a child outside of marriage has no legal rights as a parent until those rights are granted by Court Order. This most often happens in a paternity action.
Even if you are required to pay child support, which can happen by a mere presumption of parentage, that fact alone will not establish your legal paternity or provide you your rights as a parent.
Your rights as a Father to participate in the selection of schools, doctors, churches and activities for your children, to visit your child, or even to live with your child, all require a legal finding that you are the Father of your child. Without that finding, you are parenting solely by the consent of the child’s mother. You may already see and help with your children from outside of marriage. Mothers can and frequently do consent and agree to have a Father help with his children. That consent is not binding, however, and can be taken away as easily as the Mother can say “no.” This is why single fathers file paternity actions.
Mothers will occasionally file paternity actions, most frequently to establish regular visitation and enforceable support, or to recover past expenses. If you don’t have records or other proof to verify whatever support you have previously provided to the Mother, when she does file, you may be required to pay it again.
Whether a paternity action is filed by a Mother or a Father, the Court will seek to establish the rights and the obligations of both parents. Over time, revised and modified court orders can be obtained to keep up with the changing circumstances of the parents and the children.
If you are a parent of a child born outside of marriage, particularly a Father, you should investigate and legally establish your parental rights as soon as possible, so you may claim and fully enforce your Constitutional rights to love, nurture, and educate your child. Otherwise you risk having your voice silenced during times of important decisions, including where the child lives, goes to school, or attends church. Just as important, you risk being excluded from participating during times of emergency or crisis, such as hospitalization or legal matters.
Don’t rely on promises. Don’t wait for circumstances to change. Don’t put yourself on the sidelines. Your child needs you; Be legally involved.
Obviously, with so much at stake, it is important let the court is presented with persuasive evidence and a convincing presentation. That’s why you should have an attorney for this process, at least until you’ve been in court so many times you feel that you and make the best argument yourself. Armed with the right attorney, you should never be in court enough to reach that level of familiarity with the process. (This is unlike matters of child support, in which some modifications are more mechanical than discretionary.)
During the years a child is under 18 years of age (court authority typically is withdrawn at the age of majority) there are likely to be many changes in the circumstances and lifestyles of both parents. There will be many changes in the child’s needs, desires, and activities as the child develops and matures. It is these changes and these changing needs that bring parents back to court over time.
It’s not possible to succinctly address the infinite variety of issues and concerns that arise in child custody proceedings. You know your child best. Whether you are entering your first custody proceedings or whether you’re not happy with the current status of decisions already made concerning your child, you should consult with a qualified attorney to explore what steps you may have to ensure the best possible custody situation for your children.