When children are born, the bond they form with their parents is a special and important one. Many people have described the love parents have for their child, but parents also play a critical role in helping that child develop. Parents are responsible for caring for, raising, supporting, and nurturing their children until they can support themselves and sometimes even years beyond. Since this role is such an important one to a child’s wellbeing, many states including South Dakota have developed legislation to protect children’s best interests as well as the parents’ parental rights.

Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life

When it comes to issues that arise in South Dakota family law court, it was once not uncommon to see mothers highly favored in the courtroom. This was due in large part to the domestic role mothers traditionally played of their child’s primary caregiver while fathers’ traditional role was that of the breadwinner. Since the traditional family structure is quickly changing and professionals are seeing the effects fathers have on their child’s life, more and more judges are leaning toward joint custody decisions and trying to keep both parents equally involved in the child’s life.

Fathers have been proven to be equal to their female counterparts in their ability to care for, raise, and support their children. Additionally, research has shown that children who have a loving and involved father or father figure in their life tend to do better academically and have an easier time with social development. Finally, some research also suggests that the involvement of a father also has an impact on how children develop language. With fathers being key in so many important milestones for their children, courts work hard to keep a child’s father involved.

Establishing Paternity in South Dakota

When parents bring issues involving their child into the family court system, one of the most important steps for them to take is establishing their child’s paternity. When a couple is married, the legal system automatically recognizes the mother’s husband as the child’s legal and biological father – in these situations, the parents do not need to take any additional steps to establish paternity. However, when parents are not married, they need to complete a process for the child’s paternity to be established – these couples can choose a voluntary or involuntary process.

In South Dakota, a child’s paternity can be established by the parents until the child turns 18. In situations where the mother and assumed father agree on the child’s paternity, they can establish paternity using a voluntary process. To do this, the child’s mother and father must complete and sign a “Paternity Affidavit Form,” which can be obtained at the birthing center or hospital where the child is born. Additionally, parents can obtain this form from the South Dakota Department of Social Services, the Register of Deeds office, or the Department of Health.

The mother and father must both sign the Paternity Affidavit Form in the presence of a notary, and once the form has been signed and notarized, it must be sent to and filed with the Department of Health. Once the form has been appropriately filed, the father is then legally the child’s legal and biological father, and his name can be added to the child’s birth certificate. While this voluntary process is simple to complete, it only works when both parents agree on who the child’s father is – when one parent does not agree, the involuntary process must be used to establish paternity.

When one parent is denying paternity, the other parent has the option to request a DNA or genetic test through the Department of Social Services. Modern DNA testing requires that the mother, the alleged father, and the child all be present for the test and have the interior of their cheek swabbed for DNA. The swab is then sent to a lab for testing to determine who the child’s biological father is, and if the alleged father is a match, he is named the child’s legal father. If one party does not agree to the test, a court order can be issued for that individual to comply to have the test completed properly.

Another option parents can take if one parent does not want to sign the Paternity Affidavit Form is to file a “Petition to Establish Paternity” with the court, or the biological mother can begin this process by filing for child support. In this case, the judge likely orders a DNA or genetic test to be completed, and when the court determines that the alleged father is indeed the child’s biological father, the court issues a judgement of paternity, and father’s name is added to the child’s birth certificate. Once this is completed, the court can move to making other determinations, such as custody and child support.

Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation in South Dakota

Once the child’s father has legally been established, the father takes on all the rights and responsibilities of being a parent. Now, fathers can file for custody of their child with the court – during child custody cases in the state of South Dakota, judges follow the “best interests of the child” standard when making their determinations. This standard guides the judge’s decision making when setting up a child custody arrangement that best supports the child’s wellbeing instead of it being solely based on the wishes of the mother or father involved in the case.

In most cases, judges find that keeping both parents equally involved in the child’s life is in that child’s best interests. This means they work toward arranging a joint custody agreement or award one parent primary custody and give the non-custodial parent ample visitation with the child. When determining a primary custodian for the child, the judge evaluates the mother and father equally, and neither parent holds an advantage based on gender. If the father is determined to be the primary custodian, he then has the right to seek child support from the mother.

How a Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help

Family law, parental rights, and child custody decisions can all be a confusing and emotional process for fathers and their children. With so much at stake, it is always in a father’s best interest to seek the legal help of a knowledgeable attorney who is well-versed in father’s rights and family law. These legal professionals can explain the father’s rights and let him know the possible outcomes of his case, whether it is a paternity order, child custody decision, or child support issue. Additionally, a skillful attorney can defend his or her client’s rights and make sure that client is treated fairly in court. Having this expertise on hand can be the key to securing a positive outcome for everyone involved.

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