When it comes to parents and children, parents have the legal right to have a relationship with their kids. Often times, this right in enforced by state laws, and these laws see that both mothers and fathers have an equal chance at a relationship with their children. State laws in California have also been put in place so that the court system or other government agencies are not allowed to interfere in a parent/child relationship unless absolutely necessary to protect the child. When it comes to California father’s rights or child custody cases, California family law courts use the “best interests of the child” standard.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
The mother has often been viewed as the main provider and most important figure in a child’s life. More recent studies have shown a father or father figure also has a profound effect on children’s upbringing as well as their emotional development. Fathers are considered capable caregivers as well as effective disciplinarians, and a father’s involvement in a child’s life is key to how that child develops language skills, social skills, and also affects their cognitive development. Fathers who are supportive and affectionate have been shown to have a positive effect on a child’s life.
Establishing Paternity in California
The state of California uses the words “paternity” and “parentage” interchangeably and also uses the term “parental relationship.” When it comes to establishing paternity, it means either a child’s parents or the government has determined that a specific male individual is the child’s father. In some instances, the law assumes the identity of the child’s father, such as:
- When a child is born into a marriage and the mother’s husband is considered the child’s father
- When a child is born and a male has been living with the child’s mother in a family-like manner, has demonstrated a commitment to the child, and is considered to be the child’s father even if he is not the biological father
When these two circumstances are not present, the child’s paternity needs to be established.
The easiest way for parents to establish the child’s paternity is through signing a “voluntary declaration of paternity.” When an unmarried woman gives birth in a medical setting, the medical providers at that facility must provide her and the alleged father (if present) information on signing this voluntary declaration or “VDP” form. When the form is signed, both parents acknowledge they are the child’s parents, and the father’s name is legally added to the birth certificate. Once this is complete, the father assumes all rights and responsibilities to that child.
A secondary way to establish paternity in the state of California is through a paternity action taken to court. Under state law, any of the following agencies or persons may ask the court for a paternity order:
- The child’s mother
- Any male who believes he is the child’s father
- Any male who has been identified as the child’s possible father
- A local child support agency providing any services to the mother
- An adoption agency
If children in question are under the age of 12, they may or may not be considered a party in the paternity action case. However, should children be over the age of 12, they are considered a party in the case. In either circumstance, the court may appoint a representative for the child, which is generally referred to as the “guardian ad litem,” and this individual appears in court on the child’s behalf to represent what is ultimately in the child’s best interests.
When a paternity action case is brought to court, the judge has the authority to order genetic testing to determine if the male in question is the child’s father. Should males in question refuse to cooperate, the judge may consider their lack of cooperation as evidence of paternity. In addition to ordering a genetic test, the court can also order the following in paternity action cases:
- Health insurance for the child
- Child support
- Payment for genetic testing
- Payment for all court costs
- Payment for either party’s legal fees
- Visitation for the non-custodial payment
- Physical and/or legal custody of the child
California Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation
Under California state law, both of the child’s parents have the right to seek custody as well as visitation rights. In these cases, the child’s mother and father are treated equally with equal rights. These rights remain regardless of the relationship between the parents, mainly if they were married or not when the child was born. When making decisions regarding California child custody, judges use the “best interests of the child” standard to guide their decision making. Under this standard, involvement from both parents is ideal unless there is a threat of some kind to the child’s wellbeing.
While courts have traditionally placed full custody with the child’s mother, modern rulings are seeing more fathers being named the custodial parent and mothers receiving visitation. When a judge evaluates which parent receives the title of custodian, both the mother and father are evaluated on a level playing field. The court looks at factors including each parent’s ability to care for and provide for the child as well as the relationship the child has with each parent while making a final decision.
Father’s Right to Child Support in California
Depending on the case’s outcome, it is possible for one parent to be named “primary custodian” and the other parent “non-custodian.” This means the child’s primary custodian has custody for the majority of the time as well as establishes where the child lives. The non-custodial parent is often awarded visitation in different capacities depending on the circumstances of the case, which could include weekend visitations, unsupervised visitations, or in some cases supervised visitations with the child.
Whether the mother or the father is named primary custodian, that individual has a right to seek the assistance of child support. Child support is often paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to help cover the financial responsibilities of the child’s upbringing including medical costs, educational costs, and living costs, such as food, clothing, and shelter. Fathers have an equal right to seek child support when they are their child’s primary custodian and have the same rights as a mother should they need to seek legal action if support is not being paid.
How Father’s Rights Lawyers Can Help
In some cases, fathers may believe their right to a relationship with their child is being compromised or they are not receiving the same support a mother would receive in the same situation. In these cases, it is in a father’s best interest to seek the assistance of a legal professional with a background in child custody and fathers’ rights to help ensure their rights are being honored in court and they are receiving the time with their child and the support they need for the child as well.