Table of Contents:
Rights From Legal Fatherhood
In Arkansas, a father does not automatically have legal rights unless he is married to the child's mother at the time of the child's birth. Husbands automatically get parental rights unless removed by court order, and can assert those rights in child custody or child support cases. However, before an Arkansas court can give parental rights to an unmarried father through a court order, he must establish the child's paternity, also known as legal fatherhood. An unmarried father with concerns regarding his future rights to a child can establish paternity by signing a notarized or witnessed Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity with the child's mother. If the mother will not cooperate to give parental rights to the father, he can request help from the Arkansas Office of Child Support Enforcement to open a paternity case, or hire an Arkansas lawyer to assist him.
Custody and Visitation Rights
Both parents have a right to request custody and visitation with their children through a paternity case or divorce case. Under Arkansas law, a court deciding child custody or visitation issues cannot favor the mother's rights over the rights of the father. Arkansas uses the "best interests of the child" standard, which means that the courts must review each parent's character, relationship with the child, home environment and financial resources to care for the child. A father who would like to share parenting privileges with the child's mother can request joint custody, which results in shared decision-making and time spent in both parents' homes. A father also has the right to request a court-ordered visitation schedule for time with his kids.
Child Support Rights
Arkansas fathers have rights under the state's child support laws, regardless of whether they are custodial or noncustodial parents. According to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration, which oversees child support matters for the state's families, a father who has his children living with him can apply for services with the agency and request assistance in obtaining child support from the mother. For a noncustodial father, the agency cannot enforce child support unless a court has declared him to be the child's legal father in a paternity case, established child support as part of a divorce case or issued a separate order for child support.
Rights of Fathers in the Military
Arkansas dads serving in the U.S. military may have specific legal concerns, especially if planning for deployment. The Arkansas Legal Services Partnership collaborates with Stateside Legal to provide legal information for military servicemembers and military families. Military fathers currently serving overseas may be unable to attend court hearings in Arkansas for their child custody or child support cases. When fathers do not appear in court as scheduled, Arkansas law often allows the judge to make child-related decisions by default without their input. Under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), a father may be able to request a 90-day postponement, as well as extensions to the original 90-day period, during which an Arkansas court cannot issue a default judgment against him.
Rights of Unmarried Fathers
Under Maine law, when a father is not married to a child's mother at any point during her pregnancy or at the time of the child's birth, the state requires a legal action to establish the father's parental rights. Maine allows the mother and father to sign a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity together; when both parents sign the form, the father is legally recognized as a parent of the child. If the child's mother will not consent, the father can file a complaint with the Maine courts to ask for a determination of paternity. When a man files a paternity complaint, the court may require genetic testing to identify the child's legal father.
Rights of Divorcing Fathers
Married fathers generally already have parental rights to children born to their wives. When parents divorce in Maine, both the father and mother can request parental rights as part of the divorce proceedings. Most divorce cases result in shared custody, which means both parents make decisions related to the child's upbringing. Divorcing parents must also generally develop a parenting plan to determine the child's residence, whether shared between the father and mother or allocated primarily to one parent, on a court-approved schedule. A father who does not provide the child's primary residence can request visits on a specific schedule or propose a more flexible visitation plan that requires "reasonable" amounts of visitation.
Parental Rights to Custody in Maine
Maine has enacted legislation regarding parental rights and obligations. In section 1653 of the Maine Revised Statutes, the state Legislature declares that as a matter of public policy, the state courts should allow "frequent and continuing" contact for both parents with their child. The section also notes that a court should only limit a parent's relationship with a child if, in the court's opinion, the child's best interest requires that result. As such, state law encourages contact for both fathers and mothers and the state courts must act accordingly when approving parenting plans. When determining custody or visitation arrangements for fathers and mothers, state law requires the courts to consider the child's safety, well-being and best interests.
Right to Enforce or Modify Custody
Fathers who have parenting plans approved by a Maine court have the right to request help with enforcement if their children's mothers do not comply. A father can file a post-judgment motion asking the court to find that the child's mother has not complied with the parenting plan and issue court orders to enforce the plan. In some situations, the father might file a motion for contempt against the child's mother. Additionally, a father can exercise the right to file a post-judgment motion for modification of a current parenting plan if he believes that the court should approve a change in parental rights or obligations.