Are you an unwed father? 5 things you need to know

Unwed fathers have rights, but may need to take steps to enforce those rights.

If you are an unwed father, you are not alone.  The number of unwed fathers is growing. Your parental rights are constitutional right. However, enforcement of those rights seem to be automatic ONLY for the biological mother. You not only have a parental rights, but also obligations.  Here are 5 things you need to know about your parental rights.

  1. You need to establish paternity.  If you are not listed on the birth certificate as the father, take steps to establish paternity. This may require court action and/or DNA tests if the mother does not agree.
  2. You need to maintain a parental relationship with the child and provide support.  Your rights can be terminated if you do not, but it takes a court order to terminate your rights.  On the other hand, you can’t just walk away.  If you are determined to be the father, you will be required to support the child.  You must support the child even if you do not visit the child.   “Signing over my rights” will not get you out of paying child support.  Courts will not terminate your right just to get you out of paying child support. Failure to pay child support can result in penalties including loss of driving privileges, suspension of professional licenses, contempt of court, court fees and even incarceration.
  3. You may need to establish custody through a court order.  Without an order, you have no way to enforce your rights.
  4. Without a custodial order, you may not have access to school and medical records.   Schools and medical providers should honor your right if you can produce a birth certificate with your name on it.  However, many times they demand to see a custodial order.
  5. If you decide to enforce your rights, understand that the informal agreement that you have with the mother, even if it is in writing, is not enforceable unless it is filed in court and made an order of the court.

They are not just her kids

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Parenting is hard.  It is even harder when a couple breaks up.  Whether it is a friendly breakup or an all out civil war, crafting the custodial arrangement requires a balancing of parental rights with the best interests of the children.

Dads are not second class citizens

Louisiana law treats both moms and dads with equal respect and responsibility.  Some of the misguided philosophies we hear are:

  • “my children” versus “our children.”
  • “they will live with me because I am the mom.”
  • “until he pays up on his child support, he will not see the children.”
  • “I will find my children a better dad.”
  • He left me so he also left the children.

Neither parent has an upper hand in Louisiana custody proceedings. Dad’s are just as capable as moms, and just as important.   It is  the best interest of the children that govern the outcome of a custody fight.

When parents cannot agree, the Court has to determine the best interest of the children

How does a judge determine what is in the best interest of the children?  The statutes provide a non-exhaustive list:

• The love, affection, and other emotional ties between each party and the child.

• The capacity and disposition of each party to give the child love, affection, and spiritual guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child.

• The capacity and disposition of each party to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and other material needs.

• The length of time the child has lived in a  stable, adequate environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity of that environment

• The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes

• The moral fitness of each party, insofar as it affects the welfare of the child.

• The mental and physical health of each party

• The home, school and community history of the child

• The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express a preference

• The willingness and ability of each party to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other party.

• The distance between the respective residences of the parties

• The responsibility for the care and rearing of the child previously exercised by each party.

Children need both parents, before and after a breakup.

Dads are equally equipped to provide the stability and care the court will be looking for.  However, if Dad has not been fulfilling his parental duties while the couple was together, he will have a hard time convincing the court that he is now the better provider.  Dads who want to ensure they are on equal footing with mom in the case of a breakup make sure they are on equal footing in the care of the children before the breakup.  You will only be treated as a second class citizen if you have historically been treating your parental duties as unimportant.

Avoid the risk of loosing time with your kids

Don’t risk a disaster.  Instead, hire an experienced family law lawyer to protect your interests and make sure your parental rights are protected.  Shelley Goff at Goff and Goff Attorneys has been practicing family law for 28 years.  Call us. We can help you navigate the process as smoothly as possible.  318-255-1760.