One of the most stressful situations a parent can go through is fighting to gain custody of their children. The process is often time consuming, costly, and exhausting for both the parents and the kids.
Although fathers can love their children just as much as their mothers, it’s fathers who often have the hardest time getting legal rights to their children.
Fathers didn’t always have custody rights
In the past, the mother was considered the parent most capable of raising her children for the formative years. Because of this belief, it was legal for the courts to rule in favor of the mother without any consideration for the father’s rights during a custody battle.
Today, the father has equal rights to obtain custody of his children, although it can take a little more effort to exercise those rights.
Even though the father has equal rights to his children, courts still tend to favor awarding residential custody to the mother. But this doesn’t mean fathers aren’t considered capable of taking care of their children. It’s just harder for fathers to get custody for a variety of reasons, including the time consuming need to establish paternity.
Establishing maternity and paternity
Because the mother gives birth to her children, that alone is enough to legally establish the child as her own, which automatically assumes custody rights. As a father, in order to exercise your custody rights, you have to establish paternity first.
Getting legal rights to your child is easy if you’re married to the mother—you’ll be listed on the birth certificate as the legal father, and you’ll automatically have rights to the child. When you’re married and listed on the birth certificate, it’s unlikely that your relationship to the child will be questioned.
It’s only when you’re not married to the mother of your children, and you aren’t listed on the birth certificate, that you need to prove you’re the father.
Unmarried fathers can obtain child custody
Sometimes unmarried relationships fall apart, even when children are involved. And it’s not uncommon for some mothers to make it difficult for the father to see their children. This is why the courts have created the process of establishing paternity to enable unmarried fathers to get legal rights to their children.
Being listed on a birth certificate isn’t enough to establish paternity
Anyone’s name can be added as the father on a birth certificate. Mistakes happen, and sometimes people lie. Being listed on the birth certificate can help, but it doesn’t establish legal paternity.
Paternity (also known as “parentage”) can be established in the following ways:
- Both parents can voluntarily acknowledge who the mother and father of the children are. This is the easiest method for everyone and presents the least amount of stress.
- You can go to court when there is a disagreement regarding who the father is. However, this option can take a long time, is costly, and isn’t recommended without a lawyer.
- You can request a hearing from the Department of Healthcare and Family Services (DHFS) when looking for ways to establish paternity to get child support.Although this is easier than going to court, it’s time consuming, can be confusing, and won’t help you determine parental responsibilities.
- Take a paternity test. This quick test takes a cotton swab from the inside of the cheek to compare the DNA of the child, the mother, and the father in order to prove a biological connection.In the state of Illionois, a man is legally considered to be the father if the DNA test shows he’s 1,000 times more likely to be the father than a random man.
Establishing paternity to avoid third party adoption
In addition to helping you gain custody of your children, establishing paternity as soon as possible will give you legal rights in any potential third party adoption situations.
Every year, babies are given up for adoption without the father’s consent. Sometimes the father disappears, refuses to communicate, and sometimes the father is unknown. And sometimes the mother just doesn’t want to contact the father.
Unless you establish legal paternity, you won’t have any say if the mother decides to give your child up for adoption.
Establishing legal paternity isn’t enough to get custody
If you’ve already established legal paternity, you’re only halfway there. If you’re going to court to try to gain custody of your children, you need to do more than just prove you’re the father.
The judge will also evaluate your level of interest in the lives of your children up to that point. This means you need to be able to prove you have had a consistent vested interest in their welfare.
To prove you’ve been taking an active interest in the lives of your children, you can show the judge proof that you’ve been providing them with financial support and maintaining contact, even if it’s just over the phone.
If you wait too long to establish paternity, the judge may rule against you because it makes you look like you aren’t that interested in having a relationship with your children.
If you’ve been living in the home with your children, the last thing you want to do is move out. Although it’s tempting to leave when you aren’t getting along with the mother, moving out will show the court that your disagreements with the mother are more important than being there for your kids.
You need a job and a safe home environment
When you have a steady, reliable job, and a home environment conducive to the well being of your child, you’re more likely to receive legal custody of your children.
The court will always rule in favor of what is in the best interest of the children.
We’re here to help
You don’t have to go through this process alone. If you’re a father who just wants to spend time with his children, contact us today for a fee evaluation to find out how we can help.