When children are born into the world, they form an immediate and important bond with their parents. Since children are unable to care for and support themselves for the first many years of their lives, parents play an important role in making sure they receive the care and support they need to survive and develop into functioning adults. Since the role parents play in their children’s lives is so vital, many states including the state of Vermont have passed legislation to help protect the parent/child relationship and ensure children receive the support and care they so desperately need with Vermont family law issues.

Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life

Mothers have traditionally been thought to play the most important role in children’s lives. This is due in large part to the traditional family structure in which the father goes out into the workforce to establish financially stability for the family and the mother stays home to care for the children. As the “traditional” family structure changes, we are seeing more mothers becoming the breadwinners for their families and more fathers taking on stay-at-home dad roles. Additionally, studies have shown that fathers and father figures play an important role in a child’s development.

We have seen an increased interest in the role fathers play in their children’s lives. Studies suggest that fathers are an integral part of how their children develop, specially their development of speech and language. Additionally, there have been links drawn between a loving, involved father or father figure and how well a student does in an academic setting. As if this was not enough to show that fathers play an important role in their child’s life, it has also been proven time and again that fathers are equal to their female counterparts when it comes to raising or “rearing” children.

Voluntarily and Involuntarily Establishing Paternity in Vermont

In the state of Vermont, when a couple is married, it is assumed that the child’s mother’s husband is the child’s legal and biological father. When a couple is married, they do not need to take any additional steps to establish their child’s paternity in Vermont. However, when a couple is not married and has a child, they need to take additional action to establish paternity. In Vermont, “paternity” is established either voluntarily or involuntarily depending on the circumstances the couple finds themselves in – the voluntary process of establishing paternity is decidedly less complicated than the involuntary process.

When the child’s father and mother agree as to who the child’s biological father is, paternity can be established using the voluntary process. This process requires both the father and mother to sign a “Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage” form. This form is most often completed at the medical facility where the child is born, but it can also be obtained later from the court or the Office of Child Support. The form must be completed and signed by both the child’s father and mother and must also be witnessed by two individuals who are neither the father nor mother of the child.

Once the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage form is completed, it needs to be sent to and filed with the Office of Vital Records for Vermont’s Department of Health. Once this form has been processed and filed, the father is then considered the child’s legal father, and his name can be added to the child’s birth certificate. It is important to note that if the child’s mother or father is under the age of 18, their parent or legal guardian also must sign the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Parentage form. Also, if the form is filed over six months after the child is born, a Probate Court Decree is also needed to change the child’s birth certificate.

When one of the parties involved is disputing the child’s paternity, the involuntary process is required to establish paternity. This is most traditionally completed through a court proceeding in which a judge ultimately issues an “order of parentage.” The child’s mother, the child him or herself, the alleged father, or the state of Vermont (if the child is receiving public assistance) can begin this court proceeding by submitting an “Action to Establish Parentage” with the Family Division of the court for the county in which child lives. If the alleged father does not appear in court after receiving the appropriate notification, the court enters a “default order” naming the man as the child’s legal father.

If the alleged father does appear in court but paternity is still being disputed, the court orders DNA or genetic testing. This test requires the mother, child, and alleged father to have the interior of their cheek swabbed to collect DNA. That sample is analyzed at a laboratory to determine if the alleged father is in fact the child’s biological father. If the test determines there is 99.9 percent certainty the alleged father is the child’s biological father, the judge issues an order of parentage. This makes the child’s biological father the legal father as well, and his name is added to the birth certificate.

Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation

After the child’s paternity is established, the court can then move to make other important determinations including Vermont child custody and child support. When making these determinations, judges in the state of Vermont are guided by the “best interests of the child” standard – this means that all decisions being made are ones that best benefit the child in question instead of adhering to the desires of either parent. Generally, keeping both parents equally involved in a child’s life is within his or her best interests, so judges always begin their evaluation aiming to arrange a joint custody agreement.

When a joint custody agreement is not possible, the judge then moves to name the child’s primary custodian. When making this decision, each parent is evaluated equally and is not preferred based on gender. This means that fathers have an equal chance of being named the child’s primary custodian as their female counterparts. In cases where a father is named the primary custodian, it means the child resides with him and is in his care most of the time. Additionally, this means the father can petition the court to have the mother pay child support to financially support the child – this financial support is meant to help cover the costs of caring for the child, such as food, clothing, and shelter.

How a Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help

The Vermont legal and family court system can be difficult to navigate, and adding the emotional issues of paternity, child custody, and child support can make the process even worse. This is why fathers facing any of these issues should always seek the legal help of a knowledgeable father’s rights attorney. These legal professionals can explain the father’s rights to him and ensure these rights are honored in the court room while also helping to build a case to earn their client custody of the child or increased visitation depending on the circumstances.

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