Parents develop a bond with their child the minute that child is brought into the world. Parents play a very important role in children’s lives through their first years and beyond – parents carry the responsibility of providing for and caring children until they can do so for themselves. Since this role is so important to the upbringing of children, many states including the state of Oklahoma have developed legislation that protects children and holds parents to their responsibility to care for those children. When this responsibility is questioned, the issue usually ends up in the Oklahoma family court system.
Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life
Mothers have historically been favored when it comes to family court decisions due in large part to the traditional role they play as primary caregivers of children. While some families still follow the structure of the mother staying home to care for the children and the father going out to earn a living, there has been an increased emphasis on the important role a father plays in a child’s life as well. Not only are fathers equal in their ability to care for and provide for children, but research has also shown fathers have a key role in children’s social and academic development and the development of language.
Establishing Paternity in Oklahoma
Many parents find themselves in family court cases dealing with issues including child support and child custody. Often, before either of these issues can be decided upon, the child’s paternity needs to be established, meaning the child’s legal and biological father needs to be identified. For parents who are married when their child is conceived or born, the state of Oklahoma honors the “presumption of paternity,” which means the child’s mother’s husband is assumed to be the child’s father. In this case, the parents do not need to take any further action to establish paternity.
However, when a couple is not married, the path to establishing paternity is less clear. The first option unmarried parents have in the state of Oklahoma is to use an “Acknowledgement of Paternity” form, a voluntary process that establishes the child’s legal and biological father in the eyes of the law. The Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP) form is generally available at the birthing center or hospital where the child is born, and the staff of that facility are generally trained on the logistics of how the AOP form works and what the parents must do to complete and file the form.
The Acknowledgement of Paternity form needs to be signed by both parents in the presence of a witness, and the parents cannot act as witnesses for one another – the hospital should be able to provide a witness when the couple is ready to sign the form. Once the AOP form has been completed, the hospital staff ensures the form is sent to the proper government office and filed – at this time, the father’s name can be added to the child’s birth certificate. If parents are not ready to sign the AOP form at the hospital, they can do so later at the state’s Division of Vital Records or another office.
It is important to note that signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity form is legally binding and not easily undone if the parents change their minds. Because of this, it is important that both parents agree and are comfortable with the decision before signing anything. If the parents are not in agreement about who the child’s father is, there is another option for establishing paternity in the state of Oklahoma – they can file a paternity lawsuit. A lawsuit to establish paternity can be filed by either the child’s mother, the presumed father, or Oklahoma Child Support Services.
Oklahoma Child Support Services (OCSS) often gets involved in paternity cases when the child or the child’s mother has or is receiving financial support through the state. This organization has an interest in these cases because its mission is to ensure that children’s biological parents are providing them with financial support, but Oklahoma family courts cannot pass down a child support judgement until the paternity of the child involved in the case has been established. Establishing paternity is the first step in many family court issues including child custody, visitation, and child support orders.
The parties involved in the paternity lawsuit have the option to settle their case at any point, or they have the additional option of taking the case to trial. Should they choose to go in front of a judge, the judge determines if the alleged father is indeed the child’s biological and legal father. It is possible for the court to order genetic or DNA testing to make this determination if it has not already been completed. If genetic testing is ordered, the upfront cost is paid for by the OCSS, but if the alleged father is proven to be the child’s biological father, the father is responsible for repaying the cost.
At the end of the trial, the judge makes a final paternity order, which legally establishes the paternity of the child involved in the case. This only occurs if the genetic or DNA testing proves the alleged father is 99 percent or more likely to be the child’s biological father. If this is the case, the paternity order is established, and the court can move to assessing the parents’ financial obligations to support the child including medical support and child support, and the court can also begin the process of establishing a custody agreement and visitation schedule for the parents.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation
When it comes to making Oklahoma custody determinations, judges in Oklahoma follow the “best interests of the child” standard to make their decisions. Under this standard, the judge is guided to make decisions that best support the child’s wellbeing regardless of either parent’s preference. Generally, the involvement of both parents is in the child’s best interests, but when that is not an option, the judge moves to name a primary custodian. Using a number of factors, the judge decides which parent will be the primary caregiver regardless if it is the mother or the father.
Father’s Right to Child Support in Oklahoma
When the father is named the child’s primary custodian, he has the same right to file a motion for child support as a mother would in the same situation. Additionally, fathers have equal access to child support enforcement services through the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS). DHS can help primary custodians locate non-custodial parents in order to collect child support, enforce child support orders, collect and distribute child support payments, and also help with establishing paternity.
How a Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help
Family law and the family court system in Oklahoma or any other state can often be difficult to navigate on your own. When fathers have questions about paternity, child custody, or child support, it is always in their best interest to contact a knowledgeable attorney who is well-versed in father’s rights and family law. These legal professionals can help explain what the father’s rights are, explain the court process, and build a strong case to help their client secure a favorable outcome.