Do I Need a Fathers' Rights Attorney?
Whether you're seeking to establish or challenge paternity, challenge the adoption of your child, terminate your parental rights, or adjust a child support or visitation order, a fathers' rights attorney can help you through the legal process. Because the procedures in exercising or terminating paternity rights can be complicated and involve confusing paperwork and court proceedings, it may be in a father's best interests to consult with an attorney.
Paternity refers to the establishment of the legal father of a child. Often, paternity issues arise in cases involving child support, but they can also be important in relation to adoption, inheritance, custody and visitation, and health care. While many states require that paternity be established by a "preponderance of the evidence," meaning that it must be more likely than not that a putative father is the father, some states apply a higher standard. If you're seeking to establish or challenge paternity in a civil suit, an attorney can help you in offering the correct evidence under state law and completing the proper paperwork.
In all states, the birth mother and the birth father hold the primary right of consent to adoption of their child. However, for a father to hold this right, he must first establish paternity. A father may also have this right terminated for reasons including abandonment, failure to support the child, mental incompetence, or a finding of parental unfitness due to abuse or neglect.
Adoption proceedings can differ depending on the state in which you reside. States have different rules with respect to waiting periods, and in the case of older children, may have rules regarding the child's consent and potential counseling. An attorney can work with you through the adoption process or in challenging an adoption. Your attorney will understand your state's adoption statutes and what is required of you, whether first establishing paternity in order to challenge the adoption, or in providing legal consent.
Terminating Your Parental Rights
Generally, parents have the right to determine their child's care and custody and to educate their child. In general, parental rights are terminated on an individual basis and in a voluntary or involuntary manner. The procedure for termination of parental rights can be very challenging and can vary state to state. Your attorney will know what is required for termination in your state and help you through the process.
An involuntary termination occurs when one parent seeks to legally sever the rights of the other parent. Involuntary termination can also occur without either parent's consent when a state agency initiates legal proceedings to terminate the rights of both parents and allow the child to be adopted. In seeking involuntary termination the parent or agency generally considers abandonment of the child, failure to support the child, child abuse, whether the parent is in jail, and other factors weighing in favor of termination.
If you're subject to an involuntary termination, your attorney will help you gather the proper documents and paperwork proving your fitness to retain your rights. Being a party to an involuntary termination is a very difficult situation and your attorney will advocate on your behalf so that your rights aren't wrongly terminated.
Child Support, Visitation, and Custody
Once paternity is established, a father may be required to pay child support and can pursue child visitation or other custody rights. An attorney understands what's required in these situations and can work with you through the processes.
Orders of child support are issued by the family court and are based on state child support guidelines. The court can deviate from these guidelines if there are valid reasons for doing so. If you move to a different state while subject to a child support order, you may fall under the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act, by which states recognize and ensure payment of child support. Your attorney can work for you to obtain the best possible result in the entry of a child support order and help you comply with an entered order.
An attorney can also help you negotiate and draft a parenting agreement that considers primary custody, visitation, education, health care, and changes to the parenting arrangement. Your lawyer can help you to reach an agreement that is equitable and that will be approved in court. If an agreement can't be reached, a contested hearing may be requested. In this case, your attorney will advocate on your behalf to obtain a result that's respectful of your rights as a parent and in the best interests of your child.
Consulting with a Fathers' Rights Attorney
Legally exercising parental rights can be complex and challenging. An attorney can assist you with court paperwork, help you gather evidence, draft legal documents, and advocate on your behalf before a family court judge. You can browse for fathers' rights attorneys in your area.