After children have been brought into the world, they immediately form a special bond with their parents. Children’s parents are responsible for caring for them, protecting them, and raising them, which makes parents a very large and important part of the child’s life. Because this bond is so special and important, Massachusetts has created laws to help protect this relationship and also to step in when parents are not fulfilling their role as caregivers and providers for their child. Massachusetts Family law courts see many cases dealing with child support and child custody issues as well as issues with mothers’ and fathers’ parental rights.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
Tradition has seen mothers being held as their child’s primary caregiver and supporter, which is why it is not uncommon for mothers to be granted full custody of children when these issues come to the family court system. While mothers do play an important role in a child’s life, fathers also play a significant role. In addition to being capable caregivers and supporters, fathers have also been regarded as effective disciplinarians. Additionally, studies have shown children who have loving and involved fathers do better academically, and fathers also have a positive impact on children’s social development.
Establishing Paternity in Massachusetts
A large part of fathers upholding their parental rights is by establishing the child in question’s paternity. For parents who are unmarried in the state of Massachusetts, there are two ways to establish paternity, either through a voluntary or an involuntary process. The voluntary process, known as Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage, is when the child’s mother and father agree that the father is the child’s biological and therefore legal father. In order to legally establish this, both parents need to sign a form known as a “Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage.”
This form is most often presented to unmarried parents when they have their child at the hospital or birthing center. The staff is able to explain the process and legal ramifications of the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage and make sure parents have a full understanding before they sign the form. Once the form as been signed in the presence of a notary public, the staff of the medical center make sure the form is filed with the Registry of Vital Records. While this process is most often completed at the hospital right after the child is born, it can also be down at the city clerk’s office.
The involuntary process of establishing paternity in the state of Massachusetts when the parents are unmarried is filing a court order of paternity. This process is considered involuntary since, in most cases, one or more parties is disputing the child’s paternity. There are a number of people who can file a “complaint to establish paternity” including the child’s mother, the male being named the child’s father, the child’s guardian, and a representative of an office of public assistance for the state of Massachusetts (if the child is receiving any form of public assistance).
The individual seeking to establish the child’s paternity is called the “petitioner.” This petitioner must file a “complaint to establish paternity” with the Massachusetts family court system in order to begin the legal process. During the proceedings, the court may order DNA or genetic testing for the child and the alleged father. After reviewing all of the evidence, the judge overseeing the case decides if the alleged father is indeed the child’s biological and legal father. If the answer is “yes,” the judge issues an order of paternity, which declares the male is the child’s biological and legal father.
Establishing paternity is important for more than just having a father’s name on the child’s birth certificate – there are some parental rights that are awarded to both a mother and a father when the child’s paternity has been determined. With paternity established, if the mother and father cannot come to an agreement on their own, the father could petition the court for custody and/or visitation of the child. Additionally, when paternity is established, the child is also entitled to support from both parents, meaning that either the mother or father could be ordered to pay child support. Also, the child can become the parents’ beneficiary for medical and life insurance benefits and Social Security.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation
When making a Massachusetts child custody determination, a judge is guided by the “best interests of the child” standard. Basically, this standard means any decisions made regarding child custody and visitation much be based solely on the needs of the child involved and neither the mother nor the father begins the case with any greater right to custody than the other parent. Massachusetts state law does not outline a specific set of factors judges need to consider when determining a child’s best interest, which allows the judge a great amount of discretion when making these decisions.
As mentioned, neither the mother nor the father begins a child custody case with any greater right to custody than the other parent. Because of this, it is possible under the law for fathers to gain primary custody of children, meaning those children live with and are in the care of their father for the majority of the time. Massachusetts law provides that custody decisions need to support the child’s happiness and welfare, and the judge also needs to take into account any effects the child’s present or past living conditions may have or had on his or her mental and/or physical health.
Father’s Right to Child Support in Massachusetts
In cases where one parent is granted primary custody, meaning children reside with and are in the care of one parent for the majority of time, it is common for the judge to grant that parent child support from the other parent or the non-custodial parent. Massachusetts child support is financial payments made from one parent to another in order to help provide shelter, food, and clothing for the child. When fathers are named children’s primary custodian, they have the same right to receiving child support as mothers in the same situation.
How Father’s Rights Lawyers Can Help
For those fathers who are unsure of their parental rights and are beginning or have started legal proceedings regarding child custody and/or child support, an MA lawyer specializing in father’s rights and family law can be an invaluable resource. These legal professionals are able to fully explain a father’s rights to their client and also insure these rights are respected and upheld during the court case. This is very important for making sure fathers have a relationship with their child and also for helping establish custody and/or visitation for fathers with their child during the case.