From the time children are born, they form a special and important bond with their parents. Parents play a significant role in the first many years of a child’s life and are responsible for caring for, supporting, and providing for those children until they can so for themselves. Since parents are so crucial to the proper upbringing and care of a child, many states including Utah have passed legislation revolving around the role of parents and their responsibilities as well as Utah family laws that help ensure the child is properly cared for and that the parents have a relationship with their child.

Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life

There has always been a strong emphasis placed on the important role a mother plays in a child’s life – mothers are traditionally considered the primary caregiver for children due in large part to the traditional family structure where the mother remains home to care for children while the father works to earn for the family. Modern times have seen the “traditional” family structure changing, seeing more women as the primary breadwinner or seeing both parents out working to financially support their family. Since times are changing, more emphasis is being placed on a father’s role in a child’s life.

In recent decades, there has been an increased interest in the role fathers play in their child’s life. Studies have suggested that fathers have an influence on their child’s development including that of language and speech. Additionally, some studies suggest that children who have a loving, involved father or father figure in their lives do better academically and have an easier time with their social development. Fathers have also been proven to be equal in their ability to care for and “rear” children as the popularity of the “stay-at-home dad” role has grown in recent years.

Voluntarily and Involuntarily Establishing Paternity in Utah

The word “paternity” is defined as “fatherhood,” and the act of establishing paternity is a means to determine who a child’s “legal” father is and to assign the rights and responsibilities of that role to that individual. While every child has a biological father, not every child has a legal father, but when “paternity has been established,” an individual has been named the child’s “legal” father. When two parents are married, the mother’s husband is automatically assumed to be the child’s legal father—but when the parents are not married, paternity is not automatic, and they must legally establish it.

In the state of Utah, parents can use a voluntary or involuntary process to establish paternity. When both the child’s mother and father agree on who the child’s biological father is, they can establish paternity voluntarily. To complete this process, both the mother and father must sign a “Voluntary Declaration of Paternity,” which is most often completed at the hospital or medical facility where the child is born. The Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form can also be obtained later from the local Department of Health’s Vital Records and Statistics.

If the child’s father is under the age of 18, the individual’s parent or guardian must also sign the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form. Once the form has been completed, it needs to be filed with the Department of Health’s Vital Records and Statistics. Once the form has been processed by this office, the father becomes the child’s legal father, and his name is added to the child’s birth certificate. The voluntary process of establishing paternity is straightforward when the parents are in agreement, but when one party is contesting paternity, the process becomes more complicated.

The involuntary establishment of paternity in the state of Utah is done one of two ways—through an administrative proceeding by the Office of Recovery Services or through a judicial proceeding in court. These two methods are considered involuntary since one of the parties involved is disputing the child’s paternity. To begin this process, the mother, alleged father, or the child him or herself must file what is known as a “Petition to Adjudicate Paternity” with the Juvenile or District Court in the county where the child resides. If either party is unsure of paternity, the court may order genetic testing.

The completion of a genetic or DNA test requires the mother, alleged father, and child to have the interior of their cheeks swabbed for DNA. This sample is then sent to a laboratory for analysis to see if the child’s and alleged father’s DNA are a match. If the test does determine that the child and the alleged father are a match, the court issues an order of paternity naming the individual as the child’s biological and legal father. Once the child’s legal and biological father is named, the court can then move to make other important decisions, such as child custody and child support.

Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation in Utah

When a Utah family court is making child custody determinations, it uses the “best interests of a child” standard to guide its decision making. This standard establishes that Utah child custody decisions should be made on what is best for the child involved and not solely on the parents’ wishes. Judges generally work toward a joint custody agreement since having both parents involved in the child’s life is in his or her best interests, but when that type of arrangement is not an option, the judge moves to name a primary custodian who will care for the child most of the time.

When determining a primary custodian, the judge evaluates each parent equally – this means that neither parent has an advantage based on gender or other factors. Instead, the judge looks to see which parent would make the best primary custodian, can best provide for the child, and is most willing to support a loving relationship between the child and the other parent. Fathers have an equal right to be named primary custodian, and when a father is named a primary custodian, he also has an equal right to seek child support from his female counterpart.

How a Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help

The legal system can be difficult to navigate on its own, but when you add in the emotions that often come along with paternity, child custody, or child support cases, it can be an uphill battle. Fathers who are facing any of these issues should always seek the legal help of a knowledgeable father’s rights lawyer. These legal professionals can guide their client through the legal system, help explain his rights to him, and ensure those rights are respected in court. Additionally, these attorneys can build a strong case for their clients to leverage custody or additional visitation time. Having a strong legal team is an important part of being successful in the family court system.

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