We have always been told about the strength of the bond between parents and their children – it’s been explained as a love so strong it cannot be matched. Because of this unique bond parents and children share, laws have been put in place to help protect that relationship and ensure that both the parents’ and the children’s rights are being honored. Mothers’ rights have traditionally been front and center when it comes to issues in an Iowa family law court, but more modern decisions have seen a spotlight placed on fathers’ roles in children’s lives and upholding their rights as well.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
Mothers have traditionally been regarded as the most important person in children’s lives, acting as their primary caregivers, supporters, and nurturers. While this is true, fathers also play an important role in a child’s life including being equally effective caregivers, supporters, and nurturers. Additionally, a father’s presence in a child’s life has also shown that child doing better academically as well as seeing social and language development progressing as normal. Some studies have even shown that fathers tend to be more effective disciplinarians in some situations.
Establishing Paternity in Iowa
When a married couple has a baby in the state of Iowa, it is very clear what everyone’s legal rights are – the husband to the child’s mother is automatically considered to be the child’s father, and the couple does not have to take any further action. This situation becomes much more complicated when the child’s parents are unmarried, since there are no automatic protections put in place. Unmarried couples have to take additional steps to secure the legal rights of the child and the child’s father and to determine the child’s legal and biological father.
The first step in this process is establishing paternity, which means the child’s biological father is also named the child’s legal father. In the state of Iowa, there are three ways in which an unmarried father can establish a child’s paternity. The first of these is with a paternity affidavit, which is a voluntary process for both parents. This affidavit is a sworn statement that each parent signs in the presence of a notary public – once this has been signed, it is filed with the Iowa Department of Public Health. Parents have the right to sign this document if one of the following is true:
- The child’s mother was not married to another man when she became pregnant, anytime during the pregnancy, or when the child was born.
- The child’s mother was married to another man during any of the above listed times, but a court order states the mother’s husband is not the child’s father.
In signing the paternity affidavit, both parents agree the father listed on the document is the child’s legal and biological father, and his name is added to the child’s birth certificate. Additionally, by signing this document, both parents accept responsibility to financially support the child, which includes medical and child support. While signing the paternity affidavit does not give the father automatic rights to visitation with the child, it does give him the legal right to petition the court for custody and visitation time with the child should it become an issue.
The second way in which the child’s paternity can be established is through a paternity order. In most cases, CRSU enters a paternity order and usually becomes involved when a parent applies for financial support through the state of Iowa when he or she is not receiving the needed support through the other parent. This is the reason why CRSU gets involved in paternity cases to ensure the child is getting the financial support he or she requires. Any unmarried parent, regardless of gender, can seek assistance through CRSU, and this group can order parents and children to submit to DNA testing.
In addition to CRSU beginning a paternity order, the child’s mother or the child’s supposed father can also bring a paternity order to the court and have it handled through the judicial process. Once the trial has concluded, the judge makes a decision as to who the child’s legal and biological father is, either based on evidence brought to the court or by ordering a DNA test. Once this has been established, the judge passes a final paternity order, which formally establishes the child’s father.
The final way to establish the child’s paternity in the state of Iowa is through marriage. Should the child’s mother and the presumed father marry before the child is born, it is assumed the mother’s husband is both the child’s legal and biological father.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation in Iowa
When a child custody issue comes to the family court system in the state of Iowa, judges follow what is known as the “best interests of the child” standard. Under this standard, the judge is urged to make decisions regarding child custody and visitation that most benefits the child, regardless of the parents’ wishes. Iowa family courts tend to show preference toward awarding joint legal custody of children, meaning both parents have an equal right to make decisions about their child’s upbringing including medical care, education, extracurricular activities, and religious upbringing.
Although this state does prefer to award parents joint legal custody of their children, it does not show a preference toward joint physical custody, or having both parents have equal rights to the child’s physical care. Additionally, Iowa does not show a preference to awarding physical custody of younger children to the mother – the judge decides custody of children based on what is in their best interest, regardless of the gender of the parent awarded custody. This means fathers have just as much of a right to custody of their children as mothers do under the law.
Father’s Right to Child Support
In cases where the father is awarded physical custody of the child, it is not uncommon for the child’s mother to be ordered to pay child support. Child support is a financial payment meant to be used by the child’s primary caregiver to pay for his or her needs, such as housing, clothing, and food. Fathers who have primary custody of their child have just as much right to collect child support as a mother in the same situation would, and they also have the right to seek help from the state, specifically CRSU when they are unable to collect child support.
How Father’s Rights Lawyers Can Help
While Iowa state law makes it clear mothers and fathers have equal rights, it can sometimes be hard for fathers to navigate the legal waters and to understand exactly what their rights are. A lawyer who specializes in fathers’ rights can be an invaluable resource, helping to ensure fathers receive the visitation time, custody, and child support they deserve.