Children and their parents share a strong bond, one protected by many state governments including Illinois. Laws in this state help support the rights children and parents have to a relationship with one another while also stopping government entities from interfering unless necessary. When Illinois family law issues, such as custody, were brought to court in the past, it was not uncommon for judges to side with mothers as primary caregivers. While this used to be the case, more light is being shed on the importance of fathers in children’s lives and the rights and responsibilities fathers have.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
Mothers have been most traditionally viewed as the most important person in children’s lives, being their capable caregivers, caring supporters, and strong providers. While there is no doubt mothers and children share a special bond, it is also vital to know the important role a father plays in a child’s life as well. Studies have shown children who have involved and supportive fathers or father figures tend to do better academically while also having an easier time with their language and social development. Fathers can also act as capable caregivers, loving nurturers, and effective disciplinarians for children.
Establishing Paternity in Illinois
One of the first steps fathers need to take in order to enforce their parental rights is to establish the child’s paternity. The state of Illinois recognizes that all children have a right to the mental, physical, monetary, and emotional support of their parents. Additionally, Illinois has outlined that both children and parents have a right to a relationship with one another, including “support obligation” regardless of the parents’ marital status. Married parents have an easier time establishing paternity, but unmarried parents need to take some additional steps.
Under Illinois state law, there are four processes parents can follow in order to establish paternity:
- Marrying after the child is born
- Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP)
- Paternity action brought to the court
- Paternity order issued by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services’ Child Support Services
Out of the listed methods of establishing paternity, signing a VAP form is the simplest. When mothers and fathers go to the hospital or medical facility to have the baby, the medical staff provides them with the VAP form if the couple is unmarried. Both parents should read the form, ensure they understand it, and then sign and date the form in the presence of a witness (someone 18 years or older). Once this form is completed, the father’s name appears on the child’s birth certificate before the family leaves the hospital.
By signing a VAP form, both parents are agreeing the male listed on the form is the child’s biological and legal father. This form also waives the couple’s right to genetic testing for themselves and the child. Under this form, both parents are acknowledging they will provide financial support and medical care for the child. While signing the VAP form provides all of these rights, it does not give either parent right to custody or visitation – the parents need to take any custody issues they have through the family court system in the state of Illinois.
The second option parents have to establish the child’s paternity is through filing a paternity action. A paternity action can be brought through the judicial process by either the child’s mother, any male who believes he is the child’s father, any male identified as the child’s father, the child him or herself with the help of legal representation, or a government agency that has custody of the child in question. A paternity action is decided by a judge, and at the conclusion of the hearing, the judge determines who the child’s biological and legal father is.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation
In cases where parents have gone to court to determine Illinois child custody and visitation, the judge overseeing the case uses the “best interests of the child” standard in order to guide his or her decision making. This means the judge only considers a decision that benefits the child involved regardless of the parents’ another group’s wishes. The judge deciding the case looks at a number of different factors when choosing the best possible custody decision for the child. Some of those factors include, but are not limited to:
- The relationship between the child and each parent
- The relationship between the child and other siblings
- Each parent’s desires for custody
- The child’s desires for custody
- The child’s involvement in school and community groups
- The circumstances surrounding each parent’s living situation
- Each parent’s mental and physical health
- The child’s mental and physical health
- Any history of domestic violence by either parent
- Each parent’s ability and willingness to care for the child
When beginning a custody case, judges in the state of Illinois have been instructed to not hold one parent in higher regard than another before reviewing all pertinent factors – this means fathers have just as much of a right to child custody as mothers do in the eyes of the court.
Father’s Right to Child Support
In child custody cases where one parent is granted primary custody and the other parent visitation, it is not uncommon for non-custodial parents to make child support payments. This financial support is meant to help cover the expenses of raising a child including providing shelter, clothing, and food while also helping to balance medical and educational expenses. Non-custodial parents are often ordered to pay child support, since it is assumed primary custodial parents are spending the same amount of money by having the child live with them.
Should fathers be granted primary custody, they have the same right to seek child support as mothers would in the same situation. Should fathers have difficulty collecting the ordered child support, there are a number of resources to use in order to collect those payments. For the state of Illinois, the Illinois Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) is solely dedicated to providing child support services based on both state and federal laws. While DCSS provides a number of different services, its general capability includes implement enforcement measures for the payment of child support.
How Father’s Rights Lawyers Can Help
While the law is written to make it clear mothers and fathers have the same right to child custody and child support, the language of these laws can often make them hard to decipher, which is why so many fathers are unaware of their rights. For fathers facing a paternity case, a child custody case, or a child support case, a lawyer specializing in father’s rights can be an invaluable resource. These legal professionals can help fathers navigate the legal waters and also assist them in gaining the rights they deserve when it comes to time and support of their child.