So you’re going to have a baby. Congratulations! Becoming a parent is a huge milestone and one of the most rewarding experiences many of us have. Children change your life, but it’s important to know your rights as a soon-to-be father.
You and your baby’s mother may be married. Then again, maybe not. In 2015, just north of 40% of children born in the U.S. were born to unmarried mothers. This has increased as couples push back marriage later and later in life, or choose not to marry at all. (These numbers have actually declined slightly over the last few years, though they’re still substantial.)
It makes everything easier if you and the child’s mother are together as a couple, married or not. In situations where the parents have conflict, things often get much more difficult. However, wedding ring or not, couple or not, you still have rights as a soon-to-be father. And as you probably already realized, being a father also comes with additional responsibilities.
Prenatal Medical Care
Expecting mothers undergo a variety of medical treatments and routine check-ups. Participating in these exams, either financially or physically, often shows a father’s dedication. This can even help support paternity claims later on should that need arise. If the parents agree on the direction of care, this can progress smoothly.
When they don’t, however, problems often arise. If parents clash on medical decisions, the mother’s wishes usually take precedence over the father’s. Should an unmarried father want to be present at doctor’s appointments or in the delivery room, or otherwise participate in prenatal care, he must get consent from the mother.
In California, both parents must consent to adoption. Situations like this illustrate the importance of establishing paternity. Legally recognized fathers have the right to participate in decisions regarding adoption. In cases of unmarried parents where legal paternity isn’t recognized, courts may limit your rights as a soon-to-be father.
To protect your rights as a soon-to-be father, it’s vital to establish paternity. If you object to a proposed adoption, you have legal recourse and can file objections. However, if your paternity isn’t legally recognized, the courts may not take your consent into account.
In family law cases where a married couple has a baby, the legal presumption is that the husband is the father. Outside of marriage, however, this is not the case. Paternity isn’t automatic, and unless it’s established, fathers have no legal standing. This negatively impacts child custody, visitation, and your ability to make decisions about the child’s welfare.
The easiest way to establish paternity and gain rights as a soon-to-be father is to make sure your name appears on the birth certificate. In California, if you’re present when the child is born, and you’re not married to the child’s mother, you can’t be added to the birth certificate unless you sign a Declaration of Paternity. You can also sign the form at a later date or go through the courts to legally amend the birth certificate down the road.
Child Custody Types
Before a baby is born, there’s a great deal to consider. After the birth, there’s even more. Whether or not you’re married or together has a huge impact on the child custody situation. But the are multiple types of child custody that can come into play.
- Legal Custody: Legal custody gives parents the right to make decisions about a child’s life. From education and health to general care. This includes things like where to live, what school they attend, and even whether to raise them in a certain religion.
- Physical Custody: With physical custody, the court grants a parent the right to have a child live in his or her home. There’s more to it than that, but that’s the basic gist of the situation.
- Sole Custody: Sole custody is when the court grants one parent legal and physical custody of the child. The child lives with one parent and that parent maintains the power to make all the important decisions about upbringing and welfare. Courts rarely award true sole custody.
- Joint Custody: Joint custody can refer to either physical or legal custody. It’s when both parents participate in raising the child while living separately. Joint physical custody works best when parents live within close proximity to one another.
Usually, in practical terms, a parenting plan looks like a hybrid of these types of child custody. Courts often mix and match the pieces to best fit a particular situation. For instance, even if the mother has sole physical custody, both parents may share legal custody. In a situation where the child lives with one parent, regular visitation also usually figures into the parenting plan.
As a parent, you remain financially responsible for your minor children. When parents stay married or a couple, this usually works itself out organically. Things become complicated, however, when parents split up, divorce, or otherwise separate. If you don’t wind up with custody, child support payments will probably figure into the equation.
When determining child support, the courts follow a formula. This accounts for many factors and includes parental income, level of need, parenting time, health, age, and more. The ultimate aim seeks to cover the costs involved in raising a child. Day-to-day occurrences like food, shelter, education, and clothing figure in, but so do other expenses as well.
Once in place, child support becomes difficult to modify. It’s not impossible, but it’s time-consuming and often expensive. Depending on your situation, you may or may not know it’s something you’ll have to deal with. Just like it’s important to know your rights as a soon-to-be father, it’s important to be aware of the obligations.
Having kids changes your life in almost every way imaginable. It’s a momentous undertaking with lasting repercussions. As such, you should take the time to learn about your obligations and rights as a soon-to-be father.
If you have questions about child custody, contact Goldberg Jones at our San Diego office.