Fathers paying child support have certain visitation rights to their children if the court does not order sole custody for the mother. Courts only order sole custody to one parent if the other parent is found to be unfit. To find a parent unfit, the court must show that the parent cannot take care of his children because of a psychological condition, drugs, alcohol or abuse.
A father has equal rights to primary custody. Custody is not always "automatically" awarded to the mother. If there is a custody battle, the court must compare certain requirements, such as which parent spends more time with the child, which parent usually takes the child to the doctor, which parent is most likely to not hinder visitation and communication with the other parent, the parent's living space and other provisions for the child by each parent.
If a father is not awarded primary custody of the child, he is awarded secondary custody and has the right to see his child and to be a part of the child's life including decision-making for education and religion. If the parents cannot agree on a fair visitation schedule, the court will create a schedule (often as part of a parenting plan). A common visitation schedule includes every other weekend (from Friday night to Sunday evening), an over night or at least four hours once during the middle of the week (every week) and rotating holidays and vacations.
A father has the right to provide input into his child's education. If the child attends public school, the child must attend the school in the district where she lives most of the year or in the district where the primary caregiver lives. If the parents wish for the child to attend private school, the father has the right to give his input into which school the child attends.
The father also has the right to have access to all the child's school records, including but not limited report cards and behavioral reports. The father has the right to be put on the pick-up card for the child.
The father has the right to gain access to all the child's medical records. If the mother has primary custody, she should have the doctor make a notation in the child's records that the father may bring the child in for appointments and that the father gets access to all medical records.
If a medical procedure is required, and is not an emergency, the father has a right to the decision-making process regarding the medical procedure. If the parents do not agree on the procedure and the procedure is not medically necessary, the father has the right to deny the procedure.
The father has the right, within reason, to call the child on the phone. He also has the right to contact the child via email or cell phone, if the child has a cell phone. Communication rights cannot be denied to a father unless the father abuses the communication rights.