Fathers' rights in child support is an issue that is being discussed more now. The idea that child custody is always awarded to the mother and that the parent who is paying support is always the father is no longer true.
Fathers' Rights in Child Support: The Basics
When a couple can't work out an agreement between themselves about who will have custody of any minor children when their marriage ends, the decision about who the children will live with is left up to a judge. The law is written to be gender-neutral, which means that both parents are considered equally capable of raising their children. The judge will consider what kind of custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child/children when making a decision.
Both parents have a legal obligation to provide for their children. If one parent has physical custody of the child/children, then they are keeping up their end as far as their obligation goes. The other parent pays child support to satisfy their legal obligation.
The idea behind child support is to have the children maintain the same standard of living they had before their parents split up. For that reason, a non-custodial parent may be ordered to pay an amount for child support that is higher than what would be used to provide for the child/children's basic needs only.
One factor that the judge will consider is which parent is the child/children's main caregiver. The idea is to minimize the disruption to the child's normal schedule. The Court will need to know the following kinds of information before a ruling is made:
- Who calls the child/children when it's time to get up in the morning?
- Which parent helps them to get ready for their day (choosing clothing, dressing, combing hair, brushing teeth, etc.)?
- Who arranges activities for the child/children?
- Which parent takes the child/children to appointments?
- Which parent tucks them into bed at night?
Fitness of Each Parent
The Court also needs to consider whether there are any issues that would make a parent unfit to have physical custody of his or her children. According to USLegal.com, a parent may be considered unfit if they meet any of the following criteria:
- Neglected the child
- Addicted to drugs or alcohol
- Mentally ill
Each state determines what the definition of "unfit" means. In some cases, the Court will give a parent a certain amount of time to change their behavior and/or seek treatment before making a final ruling about child custody.
Child Support and Visitation
Another issue that comes up in matters surrounding fathers' rights in child support is whether the non-custodial parent has the right to stop making child support payments if their former spouse or partner is refusing or interfering with their ability to see their child/children. The Court considers these two issues to be separate.
While it may be tempting for the non-custodial parent to stop making child support payments as a way to pressure the custodial parent to stop interfering with his or her visitation, it only creates bigger problems for the non-custodial parent. Failing to pay child support, no matter what the reason, can lead to a contempt of court order and collection procedures being started against the non-payor.
Choosing a Father-Friendly Attorney
Some law firms offering family law services market themselves as being "for" fathers' rights when it comes to child support and custody matters. This is a bit of a misnomer, since the Court doesn't automatically favor mothers in custody and child support matters. If a father has been acting as the child/children's primary caregiver then the judge will consider his role in the same way as if the mother were performing these tasks.