The phone rings, you see your ex-girlfriend is calling you. This should be interesting. You pick up and she says five words that are about to change your life forever: “I’m pregnant and it’s yours.” Your mind starts to race and you’re thinking “How could this have happened?” and “Is it really mine?” After the shock begins to wear off, you begin to ask yourself, “What are my parental rights?”
Unlike a married father, who is assumed to be the child’s legal and biological parent under North Dakota law, an unwed father needs to take steps to establish paternity. Now, you might be thinking “What does establishing paternity actually do?” Establishing paternity ensures a child’s biological father becomes the legal father and gives an unwed father and mother equal footing under North Dakota law. If your next question is, “Do I need to do it even if I am sure the child is mine?” the answer is yes. Paternity can be established in several ways.
One way to establish paternity is by signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP). If both parents agree that the child is theirs, they can sign an AOP. By signing this form, both parents agree on the child’s legal and biological father without DNA testing or court order. While an AOP does not give either parent custody or visitation, it does give the father the right to ask for custody and visitation. If you have any doubt that the child is yours, do not sign an AOP right away, as it is a legally binding document and can be difficult to challenge or rescind.
The second way to establish paternity is by filing a paternity lawsuit. A paternity lawsuit can be brought in district court by either of the parents or by a government lawyer for Child Support Enforcement (CSE). During this process, either party can request the court order the child and the alleged father to submit to DNA testing. At this time, the court can also rule on issues such as child custody, visitation, and child support.
Father’s Rights To Child Custody And Visitation
Let’s say that you have established paternity. Congratulations, you are a father! However, your ex-girlfriend unfortunately doesn’t want the child to have anything to do with you. What rights do you have as an unwed father?
Traditionally, mothers tended to have the “upper hand” regarding family court issues, as they were typically the primary caregivers of the children while the fathers worked. However, with more and more women joining the workforce and fathers taking on a more hands-on approach at home, modern courts have started to view fathers as equal caregivers.
Judges in North Dakota make their child custody and visitation decisions based on the “best interests of the child” standard. This means that when judges decide a child’s residency and the non-custodial parent’s visitation schedule, they do so by taking into account what is best for the child. When it comes to determining the primary custodial parent, or the parent who is in charge of caring for the child the majority of the time, a judge will look at a wide array of relevant factors and will not unfairly favor a mother over a father, or vice versa.
Father’s Right To Child Support
Now let’s say that you are deemed the more “fit” parent and are awarded primary custody. You have the right to petition the court for child support. Child support is a financial payment usually from the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to help cover the costs related to the child’s upbringing, including shelter, food, clothing, medical costs, etc.
Navigating the family court system can be a difficult and frustrating process. If you are thinking of establishing paternity or fighting for custody, please give us a call. At SW&L, we have attorneys who handle family law cases exclusively, including paternity and custodial issues. If you have a family law issue that you would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to call 701-297-2890 or email us below.