Father’s Day is a special time to celebrate the men who have given so much to their families. But it’s also the perfect opportunity to reflect on fatherhood in America. Here at Masters Law Group, we want to take this opportunity to remind fathers their rights are equally important; to you, to your child/children, and to the law.
If you are the father, you may worry about what your parental rights are under Illinois law. Unmarried or divorcing fathers are often especially concerned about their parental rights and responsibilities. According to the Illinois Parentage Act of 2015, the state recognizes “the right of every child to the physical, mental, emotional, and financial support of his or her parents. The parent-child relationship, including support obligations, extends equally to every child and to his or her parent or to each of his or her 2 parents, regardless of the legal relationship of the parents, and regardless of whether a parent is a minor.” (Source: P.A. 99-85, eff. 1-1-16.)
Before paternity is established, the current system has mothers as primary caregivers by default, even though we know that most dads want equal time with their kids. If you’re one of those dads, or know someone who hasn’t been treated fairly, here’s what you should know to help ensure that your rights as a father are protected.
The Importance of a Father in a Child’s Life
It is no secret that mothers and children share a special bond. Mothers are viewed as the most important person in a child’s life, being their capable caregivers, caring supporters, and strong providers. While there is no doubt that mothers play a vital role in children’s lives, it is also important to know about the importance of fathers or father figures in children’s lives.
Studies have shown that children who have involved and supportive fathers tend to do better academically while also having an easier time with their language and social development. Fathers can also act as capable caregivers, loving nurturers, and effective disciplinarians for children.
Because of these findings, it is essential for both parents to be involved in their child’s life. It is important for both parents to spend quality time together with their children so they can share experiences together as well as develop meaningful relationships with one another.
Establishing Paternity in Illinois
If you are a father who wants to establish your parental rights, one of the first steps you need to take is to establish paternity, also known as “parentage”.
In Illinois, all children have a right to the mental, physical, monetary, and emotional support of their parents. Additionally, Illinois law states that both children and parents have a right to a relationship with one another—whether or not they are married. Married parents have an easier time establishing paternity than unmarried ones do: married couples can simply marry after the child is born in order to establish paternity, while unmarried couples must take additional steps.
There are four processes parents can follow in order to establish paternity:
- Marrying after the child is born
- Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity
- Paternity action brought before the court
- Paternity order issued by the Department of Healthcare and Family Services’ Child Support Services.
The easiest way to establish paternity is by signing a VAP form. When families go to the hospital or medical facility to have their baby, the staff provides them with this form if the couple is unmarried. Both parents should read the form, ensure they understand it, and then sign and date it before a witness (someone 18 years or older). Once this form is completed, the father’s name appears on the child’s birth certificate before the family leaves the hospital.
When both parents sign a VAP form, they are agreeing that the male listed on the form is the child’s legal and biological father. This form also waives both couples’ right to genetic testing for themselves and the child. Both parents are acknowledging that they will provide financial support and medical care for the child. While signing this document provides all of these rights, it does not give either parent any right to custody or visitation – parents need to take any custody issues they have through the family court system in Illinois.
Father’s Rights to Custody and Visitation
In Illinois, child custody and visitation are called the “allocation of parental responsibilities” and “parenting time.” The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act states that all parents have a right to enjoy “reasonable” parenting time unless there is a good reason for the parent to be denied access to his or her child. If the court holds a hearing and finds that granting parenting time “would seriously endanger the child’s mental, moral, or physical health or significantly impair the child’s emotional development,” the parent may not be allowed to spend time with his or her child unsupervised. Unless you have a history of domestic violence or previous convictions for violent crime, or if there is another reason for the court to restrict your parenting time, you have a legal right to spend time with your child.
In cases where parents have gone to court to determine Illinois child custody and visitation, the judge overseeing the case uses the “best interests of the child” standard in order to guide his or her decision making. This means the judge only considers a decision that benefits the child involved regardless of the parents’ other group’s wishes.
The judge deciding the case looks at a number of different factors when choosing the best possible custody decision for the child. Some of those factors include, but are not limited to:
- The relationship between each parent and their children
- How well each parent is able to care for their children
- The age of each child involved in this case
- The mental health status of each parent involved in this case (if either party is suffering from some sort of mental illness or addiction)
Should fathers be granted primary custody, they have the same right to seek child support as mothers would in the same situation. Should fathers have difficulty collecting the ordered child support, there are a number of resources to use in order to collect those payments. For the state of Illinois, the Illinois Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) is solely dedicated to providing child support services based on both state and federal laws.
Fathers often feel as though they are at a disadvantage when it comes to child custody and support. This can make it difficult for fathers who want to fight for their rights in a paternity case, child custody case or child support case. As attorneys experienced in father’s rights, we can help guide you through this process by explaining your options and help you understand what steps you need to take to ensure your rights are protected under the law.
We can also assist you in gaining the time with your children that you deserve while providing valuable assistance when it comes to paying child support and other expenses associated with raising a child.
For more information on Father’s Rights, Parenting Time, Allocation of Parental Responsibilities, Child Support and more, visit our website to talk to our experienced attorneys.