Skip to content

Child Custody | Family

What Rights Do Fathers Have to See Their Children?

7 min read
Blair Matyszczyk, Attorney

by Blair Matyszczyk, Attorney

Fathers, like mothers, have legal rights to see and care for their children. Paternity establishes an inherent right for fathers to see their children. However, if parents are unmarried when their child is born, a father may have to go through the court system to guarantee he has custody or visitation rights allowed under state law.

Married parents who subsequently divorce will address child custody, visitation, and support matters as part of the divorce proceeding. Whether you are a married father, adoptive father, divorced father, or have never been married, you have rights granted by state law. While state laws differ, the general rules remain the same: fathers have visitation and custody rights. If you have been denied the right to see your child, it may be time to speak with a child custody and visitation attorney. We can connect you today with a local child custody lawyer.

Fathers’ Visitation Rights

One parent is typically awarded primary physical custody in a child custody matter, and the other parent is awarded visitation rights. In most cases, fathers fight for visitation rights and do not have primary physical custody of their children. Visitation allows fathers the opportunity to spend time under a court-approved parenting plan. When paternity is at issue, child custody and visitation can become more complicated, requiring a trip to the courtroom.

Married Fathers

Married fathers who have gotten a divorce, are in the midst of a divorce, or anticipate a divorce in the future may face issues concerning visitation and the inability to see their children as often as before. However, a married father does not need to prove paternity in most cases, especially when the father’s name appears on the child’s birth certificate. As such, visitation rights are granted based on other factors, some of which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • The age of the child(ren) at the time of a custody or visitation matter
  • Employment status of both parents
  • Where each parent lives after a separation or divorce
  • Whether there are any allegations or signs of either parent being abusive
  • The child’s choice on visitation if the child is old enough to make this decision
  • Whether either parent has an alcohol or drug abuse problem

Visitation rights are identified in a parenting plan that shows which parent will have primary physical custody of the child(ren) and which parent will have visitation rights. Fathers who believe they are not being allotted sufficient visitation rights may seek guidance from a family law attorney.

Unmarried Fathers

Unmarried fathers face more obstacles when seeking to enforce their right to see their children. Because many unmarried fathers have never had primary physical custody of their children, court intervention is necessary before an unmarried father can gain court-mandated visitation rights. However, in some cases, if unmarried parents have a good relationship, they may formulate a visitation and custody arrangement that makes sense for them.

Establishing Paternity to Assert Fathers’ Rights

Fathers’ rights to see their children come down to proving paternity, which can be accomplished in many ways, some of which include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Documentation of a father’s name on a child’s birth certificate
  • An affidavit from both parents asserting the father’s paternity when the father is not present at the time of birth to be included on the child’s birth certificate
  • Undergoing a DNA test to prove a biological relationship between the father and child

When a mother contests paternity or is uncooperative, a father must obtain a court order establishing paternity. In addition, a court may order a DNA test, among other evidence proving a biological link between the father and child.

What Rights Does Paternity Grant?

Once a father establishes paternity, he possesses certain rights under the law. Paternity grants a father’s ability to gain custody and/or visitation rights. Depending on the facts of a given situation, the process of obtaining rights as a parent could be simple or extremely difficult. 

Any time a mother contests paternity or refuses to allow the biological father to see the child, a court order is necessary to outline both parents’ rights to physical custody, legal custody, and visitation. Because state laws differ, it’s important to work with a local family law and custody  when a father is seeking rights to see their children.

Fathers’ Rights of Adopted Children Following Divorce

A father who is the adoptive parent of a child holds the same rights as a biological parent. When parents choose to adopt a child, the child’s birth certificate will be amended to reflect both adoptive parents. If adoptive parents divorce, the adoptive father retains custody rights, and if the adoptive father does not have primary custody, he will have visitation rights. Adoptive fathers step into the shoes of biological fathers who may never have had any contact with the child.

What about Stepfathers?

If a stepfather legally adopts a child at any time following the child’s birth, the stepfather will have the same rights as a biological parent. The stepfather’s legal rights over the child will take the place of the biological father, given that a child can only have two legal parents. When a stepfather has legal rights over a stepchild, and the biological father wishes to maintain or begin contact with his biological child, the stepfather may be entitled to visitation rights with the consent of the two legal parents or through court intervention.

Fathers’ Custody Rights

Custody is a separate matter from visitation. Custody involves legal custody and physical custody. A father with legal custody rights can make important decisions on behalf of his child. Examples of such decisions include, among others, whether a child should receive medical treatment, whether a child should go to church, and where a child should attend school. When parents are divorced or have never been married, they often share legal custody rights of their child.

Physical custody is exactly as the term suggests. A father may be granted sole or joint physical custody of his child. Whether the child primarily lives with the mother or father is determined by consent of the parents and memorialized in a court-ordered parenting plan. Because custody matters are often contentious, seeking the advice of a custody lawyer is a critical step to understanding what is necessary to establish and/or maintain custody rights.

Courts Must Decide in a Child’s Best Interests

The resolution of a custody or visitation matter will always consider what decision is in a child’s best interests. Even if both parents are equally responsible parents, a court may believe it would be in the child’s best interests for the mother to have primary legal and physical custody. In some cases, granting a father primary legal and physical custody may be in the child’s best interests.

The goal with any custody matter is to ensure a child is safe, healthy, and loved. If parents divorce, and one parent keeps the primary home the child lives in, a court may determine that the child is best suited to continue living in the same home. Doing so limits disruption to a child’s daily life. Changes in family dynamics can have a negative impact on a child’s well-being. As such, courts make decisions based on what will interfere least with a child’s existing circumstances.

Contact Unbundled Legal Help Today for a Free Consultation

Legal services associated with domestic and family law matters can quickly become expensive. Many family law attorneys have high hourly rates, which could leave you paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for work you might be able to handle yourself. Unbundled Legal Help is a more affordable way for clients like you to receive the legal representation you need at a realistic price.

With as little as $500 – $1,500 to start, you can avoid unnecessary costs by using Unbundled’s a la carte approach to legal services. For example, with a child visitation, paternity, or custody matter, you may feel comfortable completing and filing forms with the court. However, you may need the assistance of a family law attorney to advocate on your behalf in the courtroom. 

Unbundled Legal Help gives clients more control over what their money is used for. Hiring a family law attorney to handle an entire legal matter opens the door to countless expenses and fees that may be avoided by choosing a different “pick and choose” approach to legal representation.

At Unbundled Legal Help, we want you to be well-informed and know what options you have for addressing your child visitation or custody matter. We can connect you today with a local child custody lawyer.

Related Blog Posts

Ready to Talk to a Lawyer?

Receive a free consultation with a more affordable lawyer in your local area