When the relationship between yourself and your child’s mother ends, it’s natural to feel anxious about your relationship with your child. To maintain that strong presence in your child’s life, it’s important that you understand your rights as a father and the steps you must take to establish those rights. Failure to do so could mean disrupting your relationship with your child or losing control of aspects of parenthood that are important to you. Let’s examine some common questions about fatherhood and father’s rights in Utah.
How do I establish paternity?
To unlock your rights as a father, you first need to establish paternity. That means making sure you are legally recognized as your child’s parent.
In Utah, the law assumes a child born during a marriage is the husband’s child. Typically, both parents will sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (VDP) at the hospital at the time of the birth. Once filed with the Department of Health, the VDP establishes you as the biological and legal father, giving you all the rights and responsibilities that come with fatherhood.
If the child is born to an unmarried mother, there are three ways to establish paternity.
- The father can still sign a VDP to establish paternity rights.
- Either parent, the child, or the State of Utah can file a court case requesting a paternity judgment. As part of the same case, the judge will rule on custody, child support, and other parental matters.
- If either parent applies to the Office of Recovery Services (ORS) for child support services, that office can verify paternity and issue a paternity order. They may order DNA tests as part of that process, if necessary.
If the mother denies a man’s claims or multiple men make claims of fatherhood, genetic testing through DNA can be used to establish paternity.
DNA evidence is not required to establish paternity if you and the mother agree that you are the parent and use one of the other methods of establishing paternity.
When genetic testing is required because the parties don’t agree, no court order is required if both parties voluntarily take the test. If one party does not agree to allow the child to be tested or to take the test themselves, the other party can ask the court to compel the test.
The court can not require DNA testing on an unborn child but can require a test be performed after birth.
If the father has passed away and the mother can show a compelling reason that genetic testing is needed, the court can require a relative to take the test and confirm that the deceased man is the parent.
Initially, the party requesting the test will be responsible for payment, but the court can order either party to pay or dictate that the costs will be shared.
If your child was born while the mother was married to another man, or if another man has established paternity and you believe that to be incorrect, you should consult a divorce or separation attorney.
Once paternity is established, the rights and responsibilities of fatherhood will apply.
Do fathers have fewer or different rights than mothers?
No. House Bill 88 says that the court can not discriminate against a parent due to gender. The bill, signed into law in 2012, says that the court must consider what is in the child’s best interests. That means you can’t be given less or different access to your child simply because you are a father instead of a mother.
However, the “best interests of the child” part can be challenging to define. The better you can highlight your healthy and active relationship with your child, the more likely you are to successfully prove that playing a significant role in the life of your child is in their best interest. An experienced father rights lawyer can help you articulate and demonstrate that relationship to the court. That increases the likelihood you will be given significant visitation, custody, and decision-making authority.
Can a father receive child support?
Gender should not be considered when determining child support. As a custodial parent, you may be entitled to child support payments, regardless of whether you are the father or mother. Child support is based on income, needs, custody, and other factors, but not on the gender of the parents.
What are a father’s rights?
As a father, you have the right to provide physical, emotional, and financial care for your child. While the custody agreement will outline the specifics, that may include spending time with your child, being notified of or consulting on medical decisions, traveling with your child, deciding on religious matters, participating in their activities, or being involved in their academics.
What are a father’s responsibilities?
Legally, you can be required to provide financial support for your child. The specifics of that will vary based on both parents’ financial circumstances and custody arrangements. In general, you will likely be required to contribute to the care of your child, which includes food, clothing, shelter, and other needs.
Your divorce or custody agreement may list other responsibilities. Common examples are providing medical insurance, paying for private school tuition, or paying for lessons or activity costs. What, if any, additional legal obligations you have depends on the agreement between you and your child’s mother.
As a father, you play an essential role in your child’s development. You have the right to maintain that role even if you no longer have a relationship with their mother. Because matters of custody, child support, and decision-making authority are complicated, it is always best to work with divorce and separation lawyers in Salt Lake or in your area to ensure you get the best legal foundation for your relationship with your child.