Family law is complex, and it’s important to understand the distinction between parental rights and paternal rights. Simply put, paternity is the determination of a child’s father, while parental rights are given to the legal parents of the child. Although these are often one and the same, due to the increasing number of children born outside marriage, it’s vital to understand the legal aspects of both paternal rights and parental rights.
Legal Issues with Paternity
In most cases, paternity is assumed voluntarily. This is typical of situations in which the child’s father is obvious, or the person assuming the role of father voluntarily consents to assume paternity of the child, with or without any room for doubt. In most cases, this happens with children born to married couples, or when a father agrees to assume the role of the child’s father and take responsibility for the child as his own.
Paternity is not determined by the legally listed parents on the child’s birth certificate, nor is it determined by a blood test to establish biological paternity. If the potential father is not biologically related to the child but intends to raise the child as his own, the father must legally acknowledge and voluntarily agree to legal paternity.
Involuntary paternity is another possibility. In some situations, a mother of a child may file a paternity lawsuit against whomever she believes to be the child’s father. Typically, these lawsuits are filed in an effort to gain financial support for the child from the biological father. Once the paternity lawsuit is filed, the potential father must appear in court and submit to a blood test. If the test shows the man is indeed the child’s biological father, the court will establish an appropriate child support agreement.
Why Paternity Determinations are Important
A determination of paternity can have several legal repercussions for everyone involved. For the father who acknowledges paternity, this allows him to refuse an adoption should the child’s mother wish it. She cannot give up a child for adoption without the father’s consent. Additionally, paternity determinations prevent a father from refusing to support his child. A successful paternity suit will establish his child support obligations.
Paternity determinations affect mothers, too. A paternity determination can help a mother secure financial support from the child’s father, and these determinations also help in custody arrangements. Children in these situations are more secure in that support from the father is legally protected. In cases where the child has no parental contact with the biological father, the child can still legally obtain important medical information from his or her father’s side of the family, inherit property, and file a claim should the father die or suffer damages.
Understanding Parental Rights
Paternity determinations often affect parental agreements. Essentially, a father who voluntarily assumes paternity of child will have a much better chance of securing parental rights in the future or establishing a more equitable custody arrangement if he and the child’s mother do not intend to marry or live together. A father with legal paternity will also have a say in any decisions made about the child’s education and upbringing.
Unfortunately, paternity determinations are sometimes used to secure what seems like a more “fair” joint custody agreement solely to reduce the amount of child support the father must pay the mother. Even if refusing paternal rights will bring about a quicker resolution for a paternity lawsuit or similar situation, doing so will make it very difficult to regain paternal rights in the future. Children should never be used as leverage in a dispute between parents, and a joint custody arrangement should always be constructed with the child’s best interests in mind.