When the court determines custody, child support, and visitation during a separation or dispute, both parties should be treated equally. However, fathers typically understand less about the rights they are owed in these situations than mothers do.
Male parents are protected under Maryland law to receive a fair and equitable evaluation. Despite this, some fathers who try to exercise their rights during custody disputes find that they are not eligible for the protections that they expected; this typically comes down to whether or not they are on the birth certificate of the minor.
Here is an overview of what rights a father has if he is not on the birth certificate and what to do to broaden the scope of those rights.
A Father’s Rights When Not on the Birth Certificate
In short, an individual does not have rights as a father if they are not on the birth certificate for the child. Although these rights are critical to ensure fathers maintain a proper standard of care for their children, they are not granted to fathers if they are not on the birth certificate. These include:
- Information access – According to Maryland family law title 9, subtitle 1, section 9-104, important information may not be withheld from fathers unless ordered by the court, even if he does not have physical custody.
- Decision-making – An individual not present on the birth certificate has no legal authority to make decisions on behalf of the child. This includes choices such as education, medical care, extracurricular activities, and religious participation.
- Custody – A father who is not on the birth certificate cannot obtain legal or physical custody of the child. Legal custody is responsible for making decisions for the child, while physical custody (or residential custody) dictates where the child will live.
- Visitation – Without being on the birth certificate, an individual is not eligible to be assigned visitation rights.
However, not being on the birth certificate can be resolved by establishing paternity through other potential channels. Once paternity has been established, a father immediately acquires the aforementioned rights and may begin to exercise them for the child’s benefit.
To acquire rights as a father during custody disputes, an individual must demonstrate paternity. Most commonly, if the parents are married, paternity is assigned immediately when the child is born, at which time the father will be documented on the birth certificate.
However, for unmarried parents, those who married after a child was born, adoptive parents, and a wide variety of others, the birth certificate may already be complete. In this case, options to establish paternity include:
- Amending the birth certificate – Birth certificates may be amended at a later date to include the father, who must make an attestation of their paternity. This process is typically overseen by Maryland’s Department of Health, Vital Statistics.
- Signing an affidavit – A father may make a formal claim of his paternity by signing an affidavit. Both parents must sign this form to attest to the individual’s role as a father to the child. This document is legally binding and has the same effect as a court order.
- Adoption – Particularly in the case of same-sex couples who face additional challenges with declaring paternity, adopting the child provides an opportunity to add legal paternal standing to the other parent.
- Genetic testing – A father can demonstrate his paternity by submitting to a DNA test showing his relation to the minor.
When the Other Parent Protests
Many options for declaring paternity rely on both parties working together to complete legal documentation. Sometimes, the mother may refuse to sign affidavits declaring paternity to block the other parent from obtaining the legal right to custody, decision-making, and information access.
Genetic testing is the most effective method of demonstrating paternity in this case, but it may only sometimes apply (e.g., in same-sex couple situations). Further legal action can be taken to ensure that fathers receive their appropriate opportunity to declare paternity and execute the rights they are due regardless of interference from the other parent.
Seek Help Defending Your Rights During Custody and Visitation Disputes
Child custody and visitation disputes can be emotionally and mentally taxing. For fathers who are not on the birth certificate, this is especially true, as they may need the rights that paternal fathers possess to achieve the results they seek.
Be sure to work with an experienced legal team to establish paternity and defend your rights as a father. The attorneys at SIEGELLAW represent fathers to receive fair treatment in such disputes . Contact SIEGELLAW to schedule a consultation, regardless of whether you are on the birth certificate.