Father’s Rights

The absence of fathers in the lives of their children in the United States is an issue of epidemic proportions. While some fathers choose to not share in the upbringing of their children, others seem to be left behind, as they fail to understand their rights as fathers under the law. Both biological parents have a legal right to request custody and visitation of their child. While doing so is often uncomplicated for the mother, the same cannot be said for the father, especially if the parents were not married when the child was born. While it may be necessary for a father to establish paternity, he still has specific rights when it comes to his children, as the law believes that having both parents involved in a child’s life is beneficial. To explore this concept, consider the following father’s rights definition.

Definition of Father’s Rights


  1. The rights of a man to exercise parental control over his children, and to actively participate in their lives.

Types of Fathers

The term “father” usually stands on its own, but according to family law in the United States, there are a number of terms that describe specific relationships between men and their children. Each state has specific statutes or definitions of the term, most of which pertain to fathers that have not established paternity through legal means.

  • Biological Father – one whose semen fertilized the egg from which the child was born.
  • Acknowledged Father – one who admits or claims the child, even if he is not married to the child’s mother.
  • Presumed Father – one who is presumably the father because he either attempted to marry the mother, married the mother after the birth, or claims the child openly and treats the child as his own.
  • Equitable Father – one who has no blood relation, but has custody or visitation of a child due to the encouragement of the biological parent.
  • Alleged Father – one who is claimed to be the father by the child’s mother.
  • Stepfather – one who marries a child’s mother and takes on the role of father.

Establishing Paternity

When a man is not married to the woman who gives birth to his child, and she has not acknowledged him as the father, he may need to establish paternity in order to exercise his parental rights. Establishing paternity does not necessarily require a genetic test, as the parents can sign and file an acknowledgement with the court, in which both parties attest to the fact that they are the biological parents of the child.

In the event either party disputes paternity, however, DNA tested will be required. Either parent can request DNA testing, or it may be ordered by the court or child support agency. Once a man has been determined the biological father, he may pursue his parental rights. In cases in which a mother has requested paternity testing, she may pursue holding the biological father to his parental responsibilities, including the payment of child support.

Parenting Plan or Agreement

When a child is born and the parents are not married, or do not live together, they may draw up a parenting plan or agreement. Such a plan outlines the arrangements made between the two in regard to custody, visitation, and child support. It may also cover who is responsible for making decisions regarding the child’s medical care, religious upbringing, schooling, and other important issues of the child’s life. While such an agreement is the best-case scenario, as it involves an understanding between the parents, and each being involved in the child’s life, it is not always achievable. When parents cannot agree on these important issues, the court may get involved to determine custody, visitation, and support matters.

Tips to Creating a Successful Parenting Plan

It is important for parents to consider their children’s basic needs for love, protection, and guidance, as well as a consistently healthy diet, enough rest, and proper medical care. Parents should take into consideration the ages of the children, as well as their personalities, abilities, and experiences. Each child is different, and it is important that a parenting plan be adjusted to suit the children, not the other way around.

Children should have regular, consistent times with each parent, spending time with each for everyday activities and care, overnights, holidays, vacations, and school and extracurricular activities. Using a calendar is vital to accomplish this, and enough detail should be written into the plan to make it easy to understand and enforce. It is always considered to be in the children’s best interests to give them a reliable routine and sense of security.

A Father’s Rights in Child Custody

When a father desires to have sole or shared custody of his child, but the mother does not agree, he may file a petition for child custody with the court. Once the petition has been filed, the court usually assigns a neutral third party to look into the matter to determine what is in the best interests of the child. This third party, often referred to as a mediator, interviews the parties, including the child, and conducts an investigation into any serious allegations made by either parent.

While it is rare for either parent to be granted sole legal or physical custody of a child, it may be granted in the event it is proven that either parent is unfit to care for the child. Shared or joint custody provides both parents an opportunity to take part in the child’s life, and allows the child frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Fathers have the same right to participate in their child’s life as mothers, and may ask for custody, or request a modification to an existing custody agreement if he wishes to do so.

A Father’s Rights in Child Visitation

The time a child spends in the care and custody of a parent with whom he does not primarily live is often referred to as “visitation,” even though the parents actually have joint custody. In the event a father is not seen to be able to care for his child for extended or overnight stays, he still has the right to request regular visitation with his child in order to remain part of the child’s life. It is very rare for a court to deny visitation to a father, as even fathers who have been shown to have issues with drug or alcohol use, or abusive tendencies may be awarded regularly scheduled supervised visitation.

Court-ordered supervisors of visitation may be extended family members, or the visitation may be ordered to take place at a supervising agency. Such visits vary in duration and frequency, and there is often a fee involved in using an agency. In most cases, fathers who are granted only limited or supervised visitation are admonished by the court to take certain steps to regain their full parental custody and visitation rights. When granted visitation, whether supervised or unsupervised, a father should adhere to the schedule as much as possible, as failing to do so may affect his future visitation rights.

A Father’s Rights in Legal Custody

Legal custody of a child is a separate issue from physical custody, and refers to the parents’ right and obligation to make important decisions regarding the child’s care and upbringing. A parent granted legal custody is given the right to make decisions about such important issues as the child’s day-to-day routine, daycare, schooling, religious upbringing, and health care. Father’s have the right to take part in deciding how their children will be raised and cared for, just the same as mothers.

As with physical custody, parents are most commonly granted joint legal custody, which requires that they consult together regarding these important issues. In some situations, conflict between the parents leads to the inability to communicate, or causes one parent to make major life decisions without consulting the other. When this leads to the inability of the parents to do what is in the child’s best interests, sole legal custody may be granted to one parent.

Other Rights of a Father

Once paternity has been established, fathers have the right, and responsibility, to support their children financially. This is usually done through court-ordered child support payments made to the mother. This is not a given, however, as mothers are frequently ordered to pay child support to fathers. This issue is determined based on the amount of time the children spend with each parent, the income level of each parent, and certain expenses and tax obligations of each parent.

A father also has the right to be notified if his child is being put up for adoption, and to prevent the adoption to a third party. In most states it is required that several attempts be made to notify the biological father of a pending adoption, whether to an unknown third party, or to a step parent. A father contesting such an adoption may file a petition with the court to retain his parental rights.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Allegation – An assertion or claim that someone has done something wrong or illegal, typically made without actual proof.
  • Child Custody Mediation – The process by which a court-appointed mediator helps parents reach a custody and visitation arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.
  • Modification – Changing or altering something, such as an agreement or court order.
  • Paternity – Being someone’s father.