In the United States, fathers have specific legal rights regarding paternity, custody, visitation, child support and termination of parental rights. A father can be designated "absent" based upon physical absence from the child's home, intentional abandonment or failure to provide support. Absent fathers retain their parental rights unless they are legally terminated.
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Legally, a man is considered a father if he is married to the child's mother at the time of birth, signed an affidavit of paternity, or is proved to be the biological parent after DNA testing. An "absent" father is not present in the home where their child lives. The term also refers to fathers who abandon their children or fail to provide parental and financial support.
If parents are married when the child is born, the husband is legally presumed to be the father. In the case of unmarried parents, paternity can be established by affidavit or DNA testing. If a man acknowledges he is the father, he can sign an affidavit acknowledging parentage. If paternity is questioned, DNA testing can confirm he is the father. Once paternity has been established, unmarried fathers have the same legal rights as married fathers.
There are two types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody means a child lives with you; legal custody means you can make legal decisions. In determining who gets custody of a child, the court considers the wishes of the child, relationship with each parent, living situation, the child's adjustment and whether parents will foster positive contact with each other, according to USLegalLawDigest.com. If a father has been absent from his child's life for a significant period of time, judges can require more visitation before considering a change of custody.
Visitation -- also called parenting time or access -- means spending time with your child. In most states, judges follow a standard visitation schedule. However, if a father hasn't been actively involved in his child's life, visitation may be infrequent or supervised until the parent-child relationship is strengthened. If you want to spend more time with your child, you can file for a change of visitation.
Parents are legally required to provide financial support for their children. In most cases, the non-custodial parent will pay support until the child turns eighteen or graduates from high school. If your child is disabled, payments could continue until the disability ends. Child support payments have nothing to do with visitation; the court must consider each issue separately.
Termination of Parental Rights
Termination of parental rights means you no longer have rights or responsibilities of visitation, custody and support. Voluntary termination is a request to end parental rights; judges will only consider voluntary termination if the custodial parent agrees and there is a pending adoption. Involuntary termination is requested by the custodial parent or the state due to abandonment, failure to provide parental or financial support, unfit parenting, harming the child or a parent's conviction of crimes.