The moment children come into the world, they form a strong and special bond with their parents. Parents are the first people to care for and love a child, which is why this bond is so important. In fact, almost all states across the country, including the state of Maryland, have put laws in place that help protect the relationship between children and their parents. However, when this relationship is threatened, either by divorce or child custody issues, the Maryland family law court system is tasked with making sure this relationship remains intact while also protecting the rights of the child, the mother, and the father.
Importance of a Father in a Child’s Life
Mothers have most traditionally been viewed as the primary caregivers of children and the most competent parent to have custody when these issues go to court. While mothers are very capable caregivers the role a father plays in a child’s life is also very important, and this critical relationship has been the center of many court cases in recent years. In addition to fathers being capable caregivers, fathers also play an important role in disciplining children. Also, studies have shown that children with involved and loving fathers tend to do better academically and have better social skills.
Establishing Paternity in Maryland
One of the most important steps in enforcing a father’s rights is to establish paternity of the child. Under state law in Maryland when a married couple has a child it is automatically assumed that the mother and the mother’s husband are the child’s parents. But, when a couple who is not married has a child, the process of establishing paternity becomes more complicated. When an unmarried couple has a child it is automatically assumed that the mother is in fact the mother of the child but it is possible for the father, and the child, to miss out on an important relationship should further action not be taken.
“Establishing paternity” refers to the legal process that ensures that the child’s biological father also becomes the child’s legal father. Couples who are no married in the state of Maryland need to take additional legal action beyond what married couples must do, in order to ensure that the child has their paternity established. In order to uphold the “best interests of the child,” Maryland lawmakers have worked to simplify the process and procedures that surround determining paternity, guardianship, custody and the responsibility for child support for children that are born outside of wedlock.
In the state of Maryland there are two ways to establish paternity for a child born outside of wedlock. First, the couple can opt to sign an Affidavit of Parentage. This route is a simple and completely voluntary process. But, should there be any doubts about paternity of the child neither the mother no the father should sign the affidavit because, once it is signed, it is a legally binding document that is difficult to overturn. Should there be any doubts about paternity parents should seek their right to DNA testing through a saliva swab in order to determine who the biological father of the child is.
Often times, unmarried couples will have the opportunity to sign these forms while they are at the hospital or birthing center. Since this is a sworn statement both the mother and the father will need to sign the Affidavit of Paternity in the presence of a witness. Once the form has been signed the staff at the hospital or birthing center will ensure the form is then filed with the Office of Vital Statistics. By signing this Affidavit of Paternity both of the parents are agreeing that the named father is both the biological and legal father of the child and agree that the father may have to pay child support.
While this is the easiest way to establish paternity when a couple is not married there is an alternative route. In addition to having the option of signing an Affidavit of Paternity, parents can also take the route of going to court. This process begins by one of the parents or a government lawyer for the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSEA) bringing a paternity action to the court – CSEA may be interest in bringing a paternity action if the mother and/or the child is receiving financial assistance from the state of Maryland since it is their duty to ensure the child is receiving financial support from both parents also.
Should anyone request genetic testing the judge will order the testing and everyone involved must agree to have it completed. The parties involved in the case can settle at any time or they have the option to go to trial. Should the parties decide to go to trial a judge will use genetic testing and/or other evidence to determine with the male in question is the child’s biological and legal father. Should the judge determine that the male is in fact the child’s legal and biological father the court will order a final paternity “judgement of filiation” meaning that paternity of the child has been formally established.
Some of the benefits of formally establishing paternity of a child include:
- Child support obligations being fulfilled
- Parents working together to raise the child
- Father’s rights are able to be upheld and protected
- Child has an opportunity to have a relationship with both parents
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation
After paternity has been established it is likely that a judge will make a decision regarding custody of the child, specifically if the parents are no longer or not planning to live together. The judge making this court order will follow the “best interests of the child” standard in order to make their decision, ensuring that the child’s best interests are recognized and protected. The judge will create a Maryland child custody agreement that most benefits the child’s mental, emotional and physical wellbeing regardless of what either parent wishes. In cases where the father is the better provider, he will be awarded custody.
Father’s Right to Child Support in Maryland
In the cases where the father of the child is granted primary physical custody, meaning the child is living with them and in their care for the majority of the time, it is not uncommon for the child’s mother to be ordered to pay the father child support. Child support is used to do exactly what the name implies – it is financial support that is to be used to help pay for the child’s expenses including shelter, food and clothing. Fathers who have custody of their child have the same right to child support as mothers in the same situation and fathers also have an equal right to using child support enforcement services.
How Father’s Rights Lawyers Can Help
While this information makes it clear that a father has the same right to a relationship and time with their child as a mother does many fathers do not know the extent of their rights or how they should be enforced. In these cases a lawyer who specializes in father’s rights and family law in the state of Maryland can be an invaluable resource both in and out of the court room. These professionals can help father’s understand their rights and ensure these rights are upheld when the issue goes to court.