Parents play a vital and special role in their child’s life. Until children are old enough to care and provide for themselves, their parents are responsible for caring and providing for them. This relationship is so important and so special that many states including the state of North Carolina have put laws into place to protect this relationship and ensure both parents and the child receive the rights they deserve. When issues regarding the parent/child relationship arise, parties usually find themselves in the North Carolina family law court system attempting to come to a resolution with the help of a judge.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
More often than not, we have seen mothers come out the “victors” in North Carolina family court cases involving child custody and child support. This has traditionally been due to the fact that mothers have been viewed as the primary caregivers and nurturers of children. While a mother’s role is important, more recent family court cases have seen an increased focus placed on the important role fathers play. Fathers are equal in their ability to care for and nurture children when compared to their female counterparts, and they also play a significant role in academic and social development.
Establishing Paternity North Carolina
Under North Carolina state law, when a couple is married and has a child, both parents are assumed to be that child’s legal and biological parents This allows them all of the rights and responsibilities of being parents. However, the laws are different in regards to unmarried couples. When an unmarried couple has a child, the parent-child connection is not automatically recognized under the law. This means that, in some cases, parents may miss out on the important obligations and benefits of having a legally established parent-child relationship unless they take further action.
The legal process of naming the child’s biological father, who is also named the child’s legal father, is known as “establishing paternity” or “legitimation.” Unmarried couples in the state of North Carolina need to take additional steps that married couples do not have to take in order to establish their child’s paternity. In this state, there are two basic methods unmarried couples can follow in order to establish paternity – couples who have questions about the legal process of establishing paternity should contact a knowledgeable family law attorney for more information.
One of the ways unmarried couples can establish paternity is by signing an Affidavit of Parentage. This is a voluntary process that can be completed at the hospital or birthing center at which the child is born. This affidavit is a sworn statement the child’s mother and father must sign in the presence of a witness. If the parents have any doubts about who the child’s biological father is, they should not sign the Affidavit of Parentage – this affidavit is a legally binding contract and one that is very hard to reverse. Once the affidavit has been signed, the hospital files it with the Office of Vital Statistics.
The second way unmarried couples can establish paternity is through a court process known as a Paternity Action. This action, also known as a “complaint,” can be brought to the court by either the child’s mother, the presumed father, or by a lawyer representing Child Support Services (CSS), which usually gets involved if the child or the mother is receiving state assistance. Once a Paternity Action has been filed, the parties have a right to settle the case or take the issue to court. Genetic testing is likely to be ordered by the judge, and if the male matches the child’s DNA by at least 97 percent, he is named the child’s legal and biological father. Then, a final paternity order is issued.
Why Paternity Should Be Established
There are many reasons why unmarried parents should work to establish their child’s paternity in North Carolina:
- If the child’s mother and father are not living together, they may have obligations to pay child support, pay medical expenses, keep up with health insurance, and cover educational costs for the child.
- Establishing paternity allows the parents to co-parent and make joint decisions regarding the child’s upbringing.
- Establishing paternity allows the father the right to petition the court for custody or visitation of the child.
- The child’s birth certificate includes both the mother’s and father’s names.
- The child has access to medical histories from both the mother’s and father’s side of the family.
- The child is able to qualify for benefits through his or her legal father, such as medical insurance, Social Security, inheritance, and federal and state benefits.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation in North Carolina
If the parents are not in a relationship and paternity has been established, it is common for the paternity case to move into a child custody case. Judges in North Carolina must decide on custody based on the evaluation of what “best promotes the interest and welfare” of the child involved in the case. The judge looks at all of the factors relevant to the child’s domestic life, but the law does not establish a list of all of the factors the judge must consider. Laws in this state do not assume the child’s mother or father should be favored to receive custody of the child.
North Carolina judges can award sole custody or joint custody – either parent has a right to request joint custody – and custody is awarded to the parent whom the judge decides will provide for the child’s best interests and welfare. The final custody order passed down by the court, if sole custody is awarded, also outlines any visitation granted to the non-custodial parent or parent who does not have the child in his or her care the majority of the time. Under North Carolina guidelines, fathers have an equal right and equal chance to be awarded sole custody of their child.
Father’s Right to Child Support
In those cases where the North Carolina father is awarded sole custody, meaning the child resides with him and is in his care for the majority of the time, the father does have a right to petition the court for child support. Child support is a financial payment from one parent to another to help financially support the needs of the child, which include food, clothing, shelter, medical costs, and educational costs. In addition to having a right to collect child support on behalf of the child, a father also has equal access to child support enforcement services through North Carolina’s Child Support Services.
How a North Carolina Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help
Family and family court issues can be overwhelming, and many fathers may not know what their parental rights are. In these situations, the best course of action for fathers facing paternity, child custody, or child custody issues is to contact a family law attorney who specializes in father’s rights. These legal professionals are able to let their client know what his rights are, help him build a strong case to take to court, and explain the realistic outcomes of the case.
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