From the moment children are born, they share a strong bond with their parents. Because this bond is so important to children’s upbringing, many states, including Kentucky, have passed laws to help protect the rights of children and parents as well as the bond they share. When Kentucky family law issues are brought into the court system, judges are bound to uphold these rights. Child custody and support issues have often seen judges siding with the child’s mother, but more emphasis has recently been placed on the importance of fathers in children’s lives and making sure fathers’ rights are being honored.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
While mothers have often been regarded as the most important figure in children’s lives, acting as their primary caregiver, nurturer, and support system, research has also shown fathers play very important roles as well. Fathers are just as capable of being caregivers, nurturers, and supporters of children and have also been seen to be effective disciplinarians as well. Studies have also shown children who have loving and involved fathers in their lives excel academically and have also shown more “normal” patterns of development of their language skills and social skills.
Establishing Paternity in Kentucky
One of the most important steps in ensuring a father’s right are upheld is by first determining the child’s paternity. Under Kentucky state law, when a child’s parents are married, the biological and legal father is assumed to be the child’s mother’s husband. However, when the parents are unmarried, determining paternity includes some additional steps. In the state of Kentucky, a father is not considered a child’s legal father until paternity is established, and there are two basic ways parents can establish this – Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP) and adjudication by a judge.
Using a VAP form is the easiest way for a father to establish a child’s paternity. This process is managed by the Kentucky Paternity Acknowledgement Program, and when unmarried parents have their child in a hospital or other medical facility, the staff presents them with a VAP form as well as all the information they need to know to understand and fill out the form. The parents are instructed to read the form fully and should they agree, both need to sign and date the form in the presence of a notary public.
Once the form has been signed, the father’s name can be added to the birth certificate, and the birth certificate is filed with the local Health Department, which then sends the certificate and the form to the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics. While VAP forms are most often made available and signed when the child is born, it can also be signed outside this time frame as well. The forms parents need to establish their child’s paternity in this manner are available at their local registrar’s office, and this office can also answer any questions parents may have about VAP.
The second and decidedly more difficult way to establish paternity in Kentucky is by going through the court system. A paternity action can be filed by the child’s mother, the presumed father, the child him or herself with legal assistance, or a lawyer for the Cabinet of Health and Family Services. The paternity action is heard in court in the county in which one of the parties resides, and a judge is tasked with deciding the case. Should anyone involved in the case request genetic testing, the court orders the testing and orders everyone involved to participate.
Based on the evidence presented in the case, the judge decides whether or not the male in question is the child’s father. Should the court decide he is, there is a final paternity judgement, which means the child’s legal and biological father has been formally established, and at this time, the father’s name is added to the child’s birth certificate. Additionally, the court may make additional judgements regarding the father’s financial obligations as well as decisions about custody and visitation.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation
When the court moves to begin child custody proceedings, the judge overseeing the case is bound by the “best interests of the child” standard to make a final custody decision. Under this standard, the judge needs to make custody decisions based on what is best for the child’s mental, physical, and emotional health regardless of either parent’s wishes. Some of the factors a judge considers during the decision making process includes:
- Relationship between the child and both parents
- Relationship between the child and any siblings
- The child’s mental and physical health
- Each parent’s mental and physical health
- The child’s involvement in his or her school, community, and home
- Each parent’s ability to care for, provide for, and nurture the child
- Any history of domestic violence on behalf of either parent
Once these and other factors have been evaluated, the judge makes a decision about the best custody arrangement. In cases where the father has proved to be the child’s best caregiver, it is not uncommon for the father to receive custody and the same support a mother would receive.
Father’s Right to Child Support in Kentucky
When one parent is awarded primary custody and the other is awarded visitation, it is not uncommon for the primary custodial parent to receive child support for the non-custodial parent. This financial support is paid by the other parent as a means to ensure the child is financially supported. Child support is meant to help the custodial parent pay for the child’s expenses, such as shelter, food, and clothing. Should fathers receive primary custody in Kentucky, they have an equal right to petition the court for child support payments from the other parent just as mothers would in the same situation.
Should fathers have difficulty collecting ordered child support payments, they also have equal access to help enforcing child support to ensure they are receiving the financial support needed to help properly raise the child. The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services contains a sub-office called the Department for Income Support, which houses Child Support Enforcement (CSE). This department was developed specifically for helping parents enforce federal and state laws regarding child support.
How Father’s Rights Lawyers Can Help
While it is clear fathers have the same rights as mothers when it comes to the issues of child custody and support, many fathers do not know exactly what their rights are, and this can often mean unfavorable outcomes for them in court. A lawyer specializing in father’s rights and family law for the state of Kentucky can be an invaluable resource for these individuals. These attorneys ensure their client’s parental rights are upheld and that they receive the treatment they are entitled to.