When it comes to the custody of children, a parent’s right to care for their child is a fundamental human right. Both the mother and the father have the right to care for their child in any way they choose, granted that the children are safe in their care. However, historically, fathers may feel that they have not been given the rights to care for their children in comparison to mothers. In fact, in some cases in Louisiana, a child does not have a legal father until paternity is determined. So, in a legal system that seemingly works against fathers’ rights, how can they advocate for the best interests of their child and their own rights as their father? The answer lies in the law. This article will discuss some of the laws that may be used to protect fathers’ rights, and how fathers can be their best advocate in gaining some form of custody of their children.
Child custody laws vary from state to state. There are many different types of child custody, each with its own set of rules and regulations. Specifically, in Louisiana, the state determines custody by acting in the best interest of the child/children and their needs. Enacted in 1978, the law reads that “in a proceeding for divorce or thereafter, the court shall award custody of the child in accordance with the best interest of the child.” This provides an open door for fathers that can prove that their child would benefit from more time spent with their father. Also, the state law favors joint custody, which means that the father’s rights to custody and visitation of the child or children could be the same as the mother’s. Due to the specific wording of this legislation, the father may feel as though they are backed against a wall, but in fact, the law has their back. If the father has a firm and strong case for custody, then they can rest assured that the law supports them in proving those facts to the court.
Though the law reads as though it evens the playing field in custody disputes between mothers and fathers, it is always important that the father comes prepared with a strategy to even the playing field in the custody agreement. It is a common perception that, historically, the court system has not favored on the side of fathers’ rights. However, this is changing as courts have begun to recognize the importance of time spent with a mother and a father and its impact on children’s development. It has been shown that children that have an involved father (along with the same or similar involvement from their mother) tend to do better academically, mentally, and emotionally.
When a father is fighting for custody and/or visitation of their child/children, it is important that they can prove certain things in court that proves their ability to be a fit parent. Below are just a few main points that fathers can make in court to prove their commitment to that child and the relationship:
- Establish Paternity: In Louisiana, a child’s father must be recognized through a mechanism provided by law, which may require genetic testing. The law also assumes that the mother’s husband is the legal/biological father, which may or may not always be the case. Generally, a father can prove his paternity by providing an Affidavit of Acknowledgement or having a judge make the decision based on testimony and genetic testing, if necessary.
- Establish Stability: The father should be able to show the judge that they are and have been able to keep a consistent job, have a stable and safe home, and is not dependent on others. The father’s ability to maintain a stable environment will speak to his ability to maintain the health and welfare of his child.
- Establish Relationship: The father-child relationship must be established in a way that is consistent with the values of respect, trust and honesty. The father needs to prove that it is in the child’s best interest that they either get custody or visitation of their child and continue that relationship.
So, while fighting for custody and/or visitation, what should be the strategy of the father? Having a lawyer that is well-versed in fathers’ rights and the law that it involves is key. The more education, support, and knowledge you have on your side, the better. The father should always document all correspondence with the other parent. Should any issues or discrepancy in the details occur, they can easily refer to a document for review. Of course, the father should be able to prove that the best interest of their child involves custody and/or visitation with their father. No matter the level being requested, whether joint or sole custody, the child’s interests are what will ultimately decide the case’s outcome. If you are then granted custody or visitation, be sure to get a copy of the court order that lays out the specifics of the agreement made between the parents and the courts. In this way, the father is held to a certain standard and given certain rights that are sealed in writing. Lastly, a father should enjoy every moment with their child and/or children. Time is truly fleeting, and every second spent with them should be a blessing and joyous occasion