When it comes to the relationship between child and parent, the bond is almost unbreakable. Because of this, states like Delaware have put family laws in place protecting that relationship and allowing both parents the opportunity to have a relationship with their child from a legal standpoint. While the relationship between mother and child has most traditionally been placed in the highest regard, recent years have seen a spotlight placed on fathers’ rights and their role in a child’s life, which is why upholding a father’s rights has become such a hot button issue in the modern family court system.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
Mothers have always been viewed as the primary caregivers for children, which is we have historically seen more mothers gain primary custody of their children. Although this relationship is important for children, there have also been studies done on the effects fathers have when they are involved in a child’s life. Fathers who are affectionate, involved, and supportive of a child have a positive correlation with the child’s development including social skills and language. Additionally, involvement from the father has also been linked to a child’s success academically as well as overall development.
Establishing Paternity in Delaware
Paternity is simply defined as the “status of being a father,” and “establishing paternity” means the court has made a legal decision on who a child’s father is. Delaware state law outlines that any of the following individuals can petition the court system in a matter of child paternity:
- The child’s mother
- Any man identified as the child’s father
- Any man who believes he is the child’s father
- Any legal representative of a male named as alleged father who is incarcerated, deceased, a minor, or incompetent
- Any officer of the state office of child support enforcement
While a paternity motion can be filed before the child is born, the court does not make a final decision in that case until after the child is born, and a paternity motion can be filed up until the child turns 18 years old. While this is traditionally the case, courts in Delaware do not prohibit a child from perusing a paternity motion after the age of 18 – should legal adults wish to begin a case to establish their biological father, they can begin these proceedings with the court at any time.
During a paternity case, the court can order the father, mother, and child to submit to genetic testing to determine the child’s biological father. In order for the test results to be considered valid, the they must show there is at least a 99 percent chance that the male in question is biologically the child’s father. Additionally, Delaware state law has very strict standards for what types of genetic testing are considered acceptable, which is why parents should ask the court to order a specific test that is considered acceptable before having any testing is done since anything else may be invalid.
In cases where no genetic testing is done, the court can gather other evidence that may be acceptable to make a paternity ruling. If the alleged father does not agree to have the genetic testing done, the court can rule the man in contempt of court and ultimately find he is the child’s biological father. Should the man in question marry the child’s mother after the child is born and they have been living together as a family, for the next two years the law allows the court to rule the man is the child’s father. The judge can also order the alleged father’s relatives to submit to genetic testing.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation
Once child’s paternity has been established, it is very common for the court to move to making a custody decision or deciding who children will primarily reside with and who will care for them. In most cases, a “custodial parent” and “non-custodial parent” is named –custodial parents have the child living with them in their care for the majority of the time, and non-custodial parents are often awarded visitation rights. While mothers have most traditionally been named the custodial parent, more and more cases are seeing the father taking this role at the conclusion of a Delaware child custody case.
When beginning a child custody case, the court views the child’s mother and father equally, and they have equal rights to custody. From there, the court uses the “best interests of the child” standard to help guide its decision making and determine the best possible custody situation for the child, even if it does not appeal to what the parents want. In cases where the father has proven to be the better caregiver and better provider, both emotionally and financially, it is very likely he will be awarded the custodial parent role, which has been very uncommon up until recent years.
Father’s Right to Child Support in Delaware
In cases where fathers are named the custodial parent and they are caring for the child the majority of the time, they have a right to seek child support from the mother, just as a mother has the right to seek child support from a father when the roles are reversed. Child support is a financial payment meant to assist with the child’s care and upbringing – these payments are meant to help share the burden of costs associated with raising a child including costs for medical care, education and tuition costs, and costs of living like food, clothing, and shelter.
When the father is named the custodial parent, it is likely the judge orders the mother to pay child support payments. Just like mothers do, fathers have a right to this support when the child is in their care, and there are a number of resources available to help fathers collect the ordered child support payments. There are a number of factors a judge uses to calculate child support payments, such as the mother’s income, the child’s needs, the father’s income, and a number of other factors and circumstances.
How Father’s Rights Lawyers Can Help
It is important for parents, both fathers and mothers, to seek legal representation when it comes to matters like child custody, paternity, and child support. Fathers especially should seek the legal help of an attorney specializing in child custody cases as well as fathers’ rights. While father’s rights have become more recognized over the last few decades, there may still be cases where these rights are overlooked or not honored for one reason or another. This is why it is so important for fathers who wish to have time with their children to seek out the assistance of a lawyer with the right experience.