When parents bring a child into the world, the bond they create is unbreakable. For the first years of children’s lives, their parents are their sole providers caring for them, supporting them, and guiding them in this new, exciting world. Because this bond is so special and so important to a child’s upbringing, many states including Montana have created family-oriented laws that help protect children and also protect the rights of mothers and fathers to have a relationship with their child. When a child’s parents are not in a relationship, many fathers find themselves going to court to protect their parental rights.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
History has seen mothers regarded as the primary caregivers of children – the traditional family structure saw mothers staying home to care for children while fathers worked to financially provide for their families. While many modern families still operate this way, more and more court decisions have seen increased emphasis placed on the important role fathers play in the raising of children. It has been shown that children who have fathers involved in their lives do better academically and socially, not to mention fathers have also been regarded as effective disciplinarians.
Establishing Paternity in Montana
One of the most important steps fathers need to take to enforce their parental rights is to establish their child’s paternity. In the state of Montana, when a couple is married and has a child, it is assumed that the mother’s husband is the child’s legal and biological father – in these cases, parents do not need to take any additional steps in establishing paternity. In cases where the parents are not married, they do need to take additional legal steps to establish paternity. In the state of Montana, paternity can be established in one of two ways.
The first manner in which a father can establish his child’s paternity is by voluntarily acknowledging the child. To do this, the father can either sign an affidavit with the child’s biological mother that is filed with the Montana Bureau of Vital Records, or, should the child be under 18 years old, the father can take the child into his home and care for the child as his own. When both the mother and father sign a paternity acknowledgement, the male’s name is added to the child’s birth certificate, and the child receives the male’s last name. This form can be signed while mother and child are still in the hospital.
While Acknowledgement of Paternity forms are available and generally completed while the mother and child are still in the hospital, these forms can also be signed after the mother and child are released. Acknowledgment of Paternity forms are also available through the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Should the male sign the Acknowledgement of Paternity form but later change his mind about the child’s paternity, the male can withdraw his acknowledgement within one year of signing the form or with a court order after this period of time has passed.
The second manner in which a father can establish a child’s paternity is through a court action. The alleged father, the mother, or the child him or herself can file a court action requesting that the Montana district court establish paternity. This is often the course of action taken when the child’s alleged father refuses to sign the Acknowledgement of Paternity or when the child’s mother and father are not in agreement as to who the father is. Additionally, the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services can file a court action.
When a paternity issue is brought to the district court, a final determination of paternity is not made until after the child is born. In most cases, the court orders genetic or DNA testing for the child, father, and mother in order to make a paternity decision. Should the results of this testing show that the alleged father is 95 percent or more likely to be the child’s biological father, the court finds the alleged father to be the child’s legal and biological father, and the father’s name is added to the child’s birth certificate. An action to establish paternity can be brought to the court by the parents any time before the child is 18 years old, and the child can bring the case at any time before the age of 21.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation
Once paternity has been established, the child’s mother and father can then go to court to seek custody and/or visitation rights. In the state of Montana, family court judges dealing with child custody cases are guided by the “best interests of the child” standard. Under this standard, it is generally assumed that equal involvement from both parents is within the child’s best interests, and judges consider a number of factors when it comes to determining the best custody arrangement for children and their overall wellbeing. Some of the considered factors include:
- The child’s health and safety
- The child’s emotional needs
- Financial support to be provided by the parents
- The parents’ ability and willingness to raise and care for the child
Montana courts prefer to keep both parents equally involved in their child’s life as well as with important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. Judges also prefer that both parent meet their responsibilities when it comes to the child by working together and co-parenting. Because of this, many parents are tasked with working together to create their own parenting plan before asking the judge to intervene on their custody case. However, in cases where the parents are unable to work out an acceptable parenting plan, the judge intervenes and passes down a child custody judgement.
Father’s Right to Child Support in Montana
In some Montana child custody cases, one parent is named “primary custodian” – meaning the child resides with that parent the majority of the time. In cases where a primary custodian is named, the non-custodial parent is awarded visitation. Additionally, it is not uncommon for the non-custodial parent to be ordered to pay child support to the primary custodian, which is a financial payment to help cover the costs of shelter, food, clothing, medical and educational expenses, and other expenses relating to the child.
In cases where fathers are awarded the role of primary custodian, they have the same rights to collecting child support from the child’s mother as a mother would in the same position, and fathers also have equal access to child support enforcement services through the state. In the state of Montana, the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services is responsible for helping primary custodial parents enforce their child support orders.
How a Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help
For those fathers who are facing paternity and child custody battles in the court room, a lawyer who specializes in father’s rights can be an invaluable resource. These legal professionals have a deep understanding of parental rights in the state of Montana and also understand how many of the family laws within the state work. Father’s rights lawyers are able to ensure their clients rights are recognized and enforced, and they can often assist their clients in getting the best possible outcomes for their case.