Parents share a special bond with their children. When children are born, their parents care for them, make sure they are supported, and guide them through their young lives. Because the bond parents share with their children is so important, many states, including the state of New Hampshire, have passed legislation to help protect that relationship while ensuring children get the support they need. When a couple with children together goes through a divorce or decides to end their relationship, the issues surrounding the support and custody of their children often find their way into the family court system.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
Traditional gender roles have seen mothers staying home to care for children while fathers go out into the workforce to financially support the family. Because of this structure, it was not uncommon in years past to see child custody cases favoring the mother, considering she was the child’s primary caregiver. While this may still be the case for some families, we have seen the family court system place more emphasis on the role fathers play in the upbringing of their children – fathers are equal to their female counterparts in terms of being capable caregivers and also have positive effects on a child’s academic and social development by being involved in their lives.
Establishing Paternity in New Hampshire
Under New Hampshire state law, the term “paternity” is equivalent to the term “fatherhood.” When paternity is “established” in this state, it means either a court or a state agency has declared a specific individual to be a child’s father. While this is one way for paternity to be established, it is also possible to establish paternity through a voluntary process that includes mutual agreement between parents. This process requires both the child’s mother and father to sign an “Acknowledgment of Paternity” form, which is then filed with the Department of Health.
In situations where a child is conceived outside of a marriage or more than ten months after the child’s mother has divorced or become a widow, paternity needs to be established. This can be completed through either a voluntary process, such as the one mentioned above, or an involuntary process. When parents decide to sign an “Acknowledgment of Paternity” form, they are able to avoid the financial cost and time investment associated with taking a paternity case to court. This acknowledgment must be signed in the presence of a notary public and also filed with the appropriate state agency.
When both parents sign an “Acknowledgment of Paternity” form, they are in agreement that the person signing the form is the child’s biological and legal father. Once this form has been signed and filed with the Department of Health, the father’s name is added to the child’s birth certificate. Once an “Acknowledgment of Paternity” form is completed and filed, it can be difficult to retract or change the document. In some cases, the parents opt to submit themselves and the child to genetic testing before completing the form in order to ensure the male in question is actually the child’s father.
When parents are not in agreement on who the child’s biological father is or the child’s mother is unsure who the father is, a paternity action can be used to establish paternity. The child’s mother, legal guardian, or legal representative, any man who believes he is the child’s father, or a state agency has the ability to file a paternity action with the court. In these cases, genetic testing may be required by the court should the presumed father continue to deny paternity or if the child’s mother is unable to decide which individual in the case is the biological father.
Under New Hampshire state law, a paternity case can be filed with the court at any time. Any of the individuals outlined above has the ability to file a paternity action before the child turns 21 years old. Additionally, the child’s mother has the ability to begin a paternity action while pregnant with the child, but the court opts to not make its final decision until the child is born.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation
One of the benefits to fathers in establishing paternity is the ability for them to seek custody or visitation with their child. Generally, after paternity has been established, the court then moves into a child custody case, especially if the parents are not in a relationship or living together. When it comes to making child custody decisions, the state of New Hampshire follows the “best interests of the child” standard, which is used in a number of other states. Under this standard, the judge is urged to make custody decisions that best suit the child’s needs, overall well-being, and development.
Family court judges in this state have a number of factors that guide their decision making under the best interests of the child standard. Generally, these factors fall into one of the below listed categories:
- The child’s health
- The child’s safety and well-being
- The child’s emotional needs
- The child’s developmental needs
- Special medical needs the child may have
State law in New Hampshire places heavy emphasis on the parents’ ability to have a positive relationship with one another and encourage a positive relationship between the child and the other parent. Unless there is valid evidence as to why the child should not have contact with one of the parents, the law requires parents to encourage frequent contact between the child and the other parent. The court considers whether or not joint custody is appropriate for the situations based on the parents’ ability to cooperate and communicate as well as make decisions together.
Father’s Right to Child Support
In cases where joint custody is not an option, the judge often grants primary custody to one parent. Based on the factors listed above and many other considerations, it can be decided that the father would make a better primary caregiver and be awarded primary custody, meaning the child reside with the father and is under his care the majority of the time. In these cases, the judge may also order the mother to pay the father child support in order to share the financial burden of raising the child. Fathers in the state of New Hampshire have an equal right to child support as mothers, and they also have equal access to the services provided by the Division of Child Support Services.
How a Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help
For fathers who are facing court issues, such as paternity, child custody, or child support, having an attorney for their case is essential. Family court lawyers, especially those specializing in father’s rights, can be an invaluable resource when it comes to these sensitive family issues. These legal professionals are able to explain their clients’ rights under state law and can also help best position fathers for a positive outcome in their family court related case.