There is a common misconception that fathers do not have equal parental rights in custody and child support disputes. Decades ago, mothers were given preference in most custody matters. However, the current law recognizes both parents’ rights to their child, as well as both parents’ obligation to financially support their child. When a father enters into a custody dispute, he may need to legally establish his paternity. A father may need to prove to the court that he is the child’s father in order to access his parental rights. This can be a complicated process, so if you need to establish paternity, consult with a skilled lawyer immediately.
How to Establish Paternity
If both parents of the child were married to each other when the child was born, or nine months before the child was born, the husband is presumed to be the legal father. This means that he does not need to take further action to establish paternity in a child custody matter.
However, if the father cannot be presumed as the legal father, he will need to establish his paternity in one of three ways:
- By both parents signing a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form, usually given to the parents by hospital staff at the time of the child’s birth;
- By obtaining an Administrative Paternity Order from the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services; or
- By obtaining an Order of Paternity from a judge in family court.
Paternity and Custody Rights
As stated above, each parent has legally established parental rights to their child. Both mother and father can ask the court to enforce these rights by determining child custody. When the parents are married to each other, the father usually asks for custody during the divorce. However, when the parents are unwed, the father will need to file a separate petition requesting either sole or joint custody over the child. Once the father has shown his paternity, the custody case can proceed.
State law no longer distinguishes which parent is “better” based solely on their gender. Rather, the child’s best interests determine all custody matters. A father petitioning for custody will have to show that it is in the child’s best interests to be in his custody. This standard applies to both legal custody (a parent’s authority to make major decisions) and physical custody (where the child primarily lives).
Paternity and Child Support
Along with parental rights related to custody and visitation, a parent may be required to pay child support. In Illinois, the non-custodial parent (who does not primarily reside with the child) typically pays support to the custodial parent. This support is intended to provide for the child’s care and well being, and helps cover life necessities from food to daycare to medical expenses. Once paternity is established, the father may be required to provide financial support to the child. The exact amount of child support required from either or both parents is determined by a calculation defined in state law.
Let Us Help You Assert Your Rights
Our family lawyers are dedicated to representing parents, both mothers and fathers. If you are in a situation where you need to fight for their parental rights, contact Fay, Farrow & Associates, P.C. today. You can discuss your case with an experienced Downers Grove lawyer for free.