Fathers’ rights topic: Parental rights for unmarried dads

One of our posts last week focused on the fact that the fathers’ rights movement is gaining a lot of attention nationwide. As a sign of just how much attention is being paid to the issue, the New York Times recently featured a series of differing opinion pieces on the topic of “Fathers’ Rights and Women’s Equality.”

In this week’s posts, we’ll discuss two topics within this series. The first is on the child custody and paternity issues facing unwed fathers. The second attempts to dispel the myth that the fathers’ rights movement is necessarily at odds with women’s rights.

One of the pieces in the NYT series is written by a law professor named Clare Huntington. She argues that when discussing fathers’ rights, it is important to note the different legal status of married fathers vs. unmarried fathers.

Establishing maternity is rarely ever an issue. Except in special circumstances (surrogacy, for instance), women who give birth to the babies are assumed to be their mothers. Assumption of paternity is less straightforward. Many states still base paternity on marriage. In other words, the man married to the birth mother is presumed to be the father.

If a man is married to the mother of his children at the time of their birth, his parental rights are basically secure. He can also expect some child custody protections in court if he and the mother ever get divorced.

But more and more couples are having children without getting married. This means that unwed fathers are not automatically granted parental status when the baby is born. They need to take steps to establish paternity in court. Moreover, a breakup does not come with the same child custody rights as a divorce. Unless the man has taken legal steps to establish paternity and custody (which not everyone can afford) it is largely up to mothers to decide whether or not unmarried fathers get to stay involved with their children once the relationship has ended.

Because so many children are now born to purposefully unmarried parents, perhaps it is time to address the inequities in parental rights stemming from laws that base paternity largely on marriage.

Please check back later this week as we continue our discussion.

Source: The New York Times, “What Unmarried Fathers Have to Worry About,” Clare Huntington, June 13, 2014

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