Rights for Fathers Paying Child Support

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

Rights for Fathers Paying Child Support

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

As a legal parent, a father has parental rights that allow him to develop and maintain a relationship with his child. If after a divorce a father does not maintain physical custody, these legal rights include the ability to spend time with his child.

Little girl holding a teddy bear and her father's hand

A father also has a legal obligation to financially support his kids. Failure to pay child support, however, does not result in a court limiting a father's visitation time.

What are a father's parental rights?

Parental rights are each parent's rights to their child. These include:

  • Custody or visitation
  • Listing the child as a dependent on taxes
  • Changing the child's name
  • Carrying the child on health insurance
  • Making legal decisions affecting the child

After a divorce, a father maintains his parental rights even if his ex-spouse remarries. He has preferential rights over the step-parent. However, if a father allows a step-parent to adopt his child, then his parental rights end. This leaves him with no legal guarantee of visitation.

When parents are married, each has equal rights to their child. However, unmarried couples don't share in the same rights. For example, when an unwed father signs his baby's birth certificate, he agrees to paternity and to the financial responsibility of the child. However, he must get a court order to gain visitation.

To guarantee his legal rights to visitation, an unwed father must file a petition to establish paternity with his local court. This can be done by filing an acknowledgement of paternity signed by both parents. Fathers can also establish paternity by filing a lawsuit. The judge requires a DNA test to confirm paternity. The court can also decide the father's custody and visitation.

How do you determine a father's child support obligation?

State laws vary on child support calculations. These calculations consider each parent's income and financial obligations along with the child's specific needs. Child support typically lasts until the child turns 18, enters the military through active duty, emancipates himself or herself, or a court terminates the non-custodial parent's rights to the child.

Either parent can modify these payments if financial commitments change. For example, if the father gains physical custody of his child, he can request a modification. Additionally, if a father takes a new job with a different salary, his child support may change. Since state laws govern how child support can be altered, you should understand how the rules apply to you.

What happens if a father doesn't pay child support?

If a father fails to make payments, his visitation with the child is typically not affected as he has a legal right to spend time with his child. Child support and visitation are two separate issues.

However, if a father doesn't pay, he can get in trouble with the court. If a father neglects this financial obligation, a court could find him in contempt, requiring a fine, jail time, or both. The court can also take a percentage of his wages to satisfy the payments. And the custodial parent can ask the state for help in collecting child support from the non-custodial parent. If a father falls behind, he may make payments toward the amount owed through an established payment plan.

What can cause a father's parental rights to be taken away?

If a father is absent from a child's life for an extended period, the court may view this as abandonment. If this occurs, the court may terminate a father's parental rights. This eliminates the responsibility of child support and prohibits visitation or custody. Rights like visitation can also be restricted. A court might limit a father's time with his child for reasons including alcohol addiction, criminal activity, or failing to comply with previous court orders.

Because parental rights, child support, and visitation are complex issues, it's important to know the laws in your state. Further, if other issues pop up, such as a change in jobs or custody, you'll know how those life events can impact you and your child.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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