Fathers, just like any other parent, have a right under Alabama child custody law to have a relationship with their child just as the child has a fundamental right to connect and associate with both parents. Additionally, custody laws in this state have also been established to foster the parent/child relationship, and the family court system cannot intrude on these rights for either a father or mother unless absolutely necessary, such as to protect the child or help to uphold the best interests of the child standard that guides its decision making.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
Fathers play an important role in children’s lives and are often central to their child’s emotional well-being. Additionally, fathers act as capable caretakers and disciplinarians, which is important for the child’s upbringing – studies have shown fathers who are supportive, affectionate, and involved can contribute greatly to a child’s language, cognitive, and social development, not to mention academic achievements, self-esteem, and sense of overall well-being. It is for these reasons that many family court judges work to keep the father involved in the child’s life as much as possible.
Establishing Paternity in Alabama
Establishing a child’s paternity in Alabama is an important step in most custody cases for a number of different reasons. First, courts and parents are interested in establishing paternity to set up a child support order. Additionally, fathers may be interested in establishing paternity as a means to establish their Alabama Father’s rights to spend time and have a relationship with their child and also as a means to enforce the other rights a father has under Alabama child custody laws.
There are a number of ways in which paternity can be established. First, both the father and mother have the option to sign a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity, which legally establishes the child’s father. Once this form has been signed and submitted to the court, it is legally binding and allows the father to add his name to the child’s birth certificate. This process works well when the parents are in agreement of who the father is, but the process is different when they do not agree.
When parents cannot agree on their child’s paternity, they need to use the court’s assistance to establish paternity. Under Alabama state law, any individuals or agencies falling into the following categories can start an action for paternity:
- The child’s mother
- Male who believes he is the father
- Male identified as the father
- Alabama Department of Human Resources
- Licensed agency for child-placing
- Authorized adoption agency
- Legal representative of individual who has a right to establish paternity but may be deceased, a minor, or incarcerated
- Any “interested individual” or a person with direct concern in the outcome of the paternity test who does not fall into any of the above listed categories
Additionally, a child has the right to begin a paternity action although in many cases he or she does not have the wherewithal to do so. In these cases, an adult would need to act on the child’s behalf to hire an attorney or complete and file the necessary paperwork to bring the case to court.
Best Interest of the Child Standard in Alabama
Alabama family law courts, which are responsible for deciding child custody and upholding parental rights, follow the “best interests of the child” standard in order to guide the decisions they make. Most often, this standard is used when a couple is divorcing and a child custody order is being established. Judges in the family court system look at a number of different factors under this standard including:
- The child’s needs
- Desires of both parents
- Relationship between the child and both parents
- The living conditions at both parent’s residences
- The willingness and ability of both parents to care for the child
- The willingness and ability of both parents to provide for the child
- The family unit’s stability
- Any existence of current or past domestic violence or abuse allegations
- Any other factor that would impact the child’s wellbeing
Should having the father present in the child’s life be strongly against the child’s best interests, it is possible for the court to limit or even bar the father from contact with the child. Since having a father present in a child’s life is important for development and emotional well-being, this often only occurs in the most severe cases when the child is at risk.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation
A child’s biological parents have the right to seek both custody and visitation of that child. This right stands regardless of whether the child’s parents were married or not when he or she was born. Like many other decisions regarding child custody, the family court system in Alabama uses the best interests of the child standard to establish child custody as well as any visitation schedule applying to the case. Unless there’s an indication otherwise, the judge assumes involvement by both parents, including the father, benefits the child.
Father’s Right to Child Support
In many child custody cases, one parent is named the custodial parent and one the non-custodial parent. Custodial parents have the child residing with them the majority of the time and are responsible for day-to-day care. Non-custodial parents often have varying degrees of visitation rights with the child and are also often ordered to pay child support to the custodial parent as a means to financially support the child.
Regardless of who is named the custodial parent, the father or the mother, that parent has a right to receive monetary child support as a means to help with the child’s care and upbringing. A father who is named the custodial parent has just as much right to child support as a mother who is named the custodial parent. Child support is meant to help with the child’s expenses including clothing, food, shelter, medical care, and any other incurred expenses.
How Father’s Rights Lawyers Can Help
For those fathers whose rights are coming under attack, a lawyer specializing in father’s rights can be an invaluable resource. An attorney specialized in child custody and father’s rights is able to explain what rights the man has under Alabama state law and what actions need to be taken to ensure these rights are upheld. Additionally, these professionals can help ensure fathers get the custody and visitation time with their child they desire and deserve during a custody case either during a divorce or as an unmarried man seeking time with his child.