There are more than five million domestic disputes that hit the courts every year; yet of these, only 14% of the parents granted custody of their children are fathers. Fathers have certain rights that make them equal to mothers, but due to occasional court bias, they don’t always see those rights reflected in parenting plans.
Divorce is unfortunate but not uncommon—if you want to still be part of your child’s life, after it’s all said and done, it’s important you know about your rights. It’s also important to be familiar with them in cases in which you and your partner have a child out of wedlock.
To help you in this endeavor, here is a basic rundown of your fathers’ rights and how you can act upon them.
1. Medical Care
You may want your thoughts to weigh in toward medical treatment when the pregnant mother is going for her routine medical screenings. However, if you are in disagreement with the mother, sadly, her wants will outweigh yours. This is because anything related to health care is exercised as an individual right.
Biological fathers have the right to see medical records only after they have the legal recognition as a father. Due to HIPAA legislation, if you want to see the mother’s test results, you’ll have to get her consent. Spouses and unwed parents can’t access each other’s medical records without the other’s approval. This can be done when both parents fill out acknowledgment of paternity papers at birth or through a parentage action in the Court. Then a legally recognized father does have full right to see his child’s medical records.
Once the baby is born though, you do have the right to see the little one’s medical records. This applies to establishing and exercising every aspect of fathers’ rights. Without legal recognition as the father, you can’t exercise parental rights.
2. Regarding Adoption
Both parents can have a say in anything regarding putting the baby up for adoption. But for you to gain that right, you first have to establish paternity. If you don’t and you aren’t married to the mother, your input to the matter will be severely limited.
If you do object to the adoption, you’ll need to fill out forms with the state court or the state health and human resources department.
You have very few rights if your partner chooses to have an abortion. The mother isn’t required to get your permission for an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court has long held that she has an absolute right to make all her medical decisions without telling her partner because she has an absolute right to privacy and to making medical choices that directly affect her. And it doesn’t matter whether or not you are married.
She also isn’t required to inform you of the abortion before it happens. This is to protect the medical secrecy of the mother. In some cases, a woman gets an abortion due to an abusive relationship, so these rules are in place to protect her.
4. Establishing Paternity
If you don’t establish paternity, you’ll have very little say in your visitation rights. You actually won’t really have a say in anything regarding the well-being of the child. However, there are a few ways you can establish paternity if you wish to be in the child’s life.
The first and easiest way is to be there when the child is born and ensure your name is on their birth certificate. If you can’t be there, then your second option is to fill out a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity in your state.
If the mother protests the paternity, you’ll need to contact the Child Support Enforcement Division or petition the court.
5. Custody Rights
First of all, if you aren’t married to the mother of your child, you still get the same custody rights a married father does. If you don’t live with the mother and child, you will have to petition the court for custody rights.
Fathers sometimes lose out in these custody hearings due to the bias that a child should be with its mother. If the mother is an unfit parent, though, that’s another story entirely.
In most cases, it’s best for you to file for either joint custody, or give the mother full custody and come to agreements on visitation. It’s just easier to get this than full custody; but you will still need a custody lawyer to get the job done.
For the most part, you’re probably going to want to be involved in any medical procedures involving your child—as well as in their education. To do this, you’ll need to see their records, to which you are perfectly entitled.
Washington state law gives you a right to see all medical, school, and other records involving your children. According to HIPAA laws, you are entitled to your child’s medical information as a representative of that child. There are a couple instances where this isn’t the case.
The first example would occur if the minor is the one to consent to medical care, and the state doesn’t require parents to also give consent. Another is if they are given care by direction of the court or someone involved with the court. Lastly, if a medical professional determines the child is in their care due to some sort of domestic violence, you may not be entitled to this information.
Federal law does modify this since everyone 13 and up has the right to prohibit access to medical records. But one parent cannot legally block access to these records without good reason—and that usually boils down to protecting the children from another parent. Parents also have a right under Washington law to access school records regarding attendance, grades, and discipline regardless of whether the school is public or private. There are some rights to records of even adult children if they are receiving court-ordered post-secondary support from you while in college.
Most parents want to play an active role in their child’s academic career. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, you do have this right…unless the court has for whatever reason told your child’s school you’re not allowed access.
Keep in mind you’re allowed public school records. But private schools typically don’t comply with FERPA.
7. Paying Child Support
No matter what your custody status may be, you are responsible for providing financial support for the child. The only way around this is for you to completely denounce the child and lift your paternity. It is not possible to denounce paternity on your own. You can relinquish your paternal rights through the courts, but only if there is an adoptive father who will take over the responsibility.
Once you do this, you have completely severed your ties to the child and thus given up your right to anything concerning them. Your child-support costs usually depend on your income, availability for financial support, and of course, the needs of the child. Support will also extend to medical, educational, and daycare expenses on top of court-ordered child support.
All You Need to Know About a Fathers' Rights to his Child
A father has certain rights to his child that can’t be taken away but can be limited if you don’t follow proper procedures. The best thing to do is to establish paternity as soon as the child is born, so you do have some say. Exercise these fathers’ rights to be an active player in your child’s life.
Again, and unfortunately, court bias is a factor in some instances. For specifics regarding your situation, it may be best that you talk to a lawyer.