Continuing a review of issues raised in In Re Termination of Parental Rights to Guenevere T. http://www.wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.pdf?content=pdf&seqNo=64253), consider the ramifications of the father’s failure to establish rights through a formal paternity judgment. It seems that, after the father moved away, the parents agreed on an informal placement schedule. Later, the mother, due to concerns regarding the father’s alleged drug use, required the father’s placement to be supervised. The schedule was never kept, and father never sought to formally establish it. As we know, his parental rights were later terminated.
In paternity or divorce matters, fathers have few rights until they are formally established by a court order. In the case of unmarried parents, even if the parents live together and raise the child jointly, mothers have sole custody (decision-making authority) unless a paternity judgment grants such rights to the father. Additionally, fathers have no means of enforcing any specific placement. As long as the parents cooperate amicably, all is well. However, if the relationship breaks down, and mother denies or limits placement, father cannot require access to the child absent a court order establishing placement. This was the situation in Guenevere. Mother “granted” placement to father, but only if supervised by a third person. Because father never sought to establish any specific placement time, he was powerless to object to mother’s conditions.
In divorce circumstances, the situation is a bit different. Until established by court order, neither parent has specific placement rights. In the event of a dispute over where a child should spend time, neither parent’s claim is enforceable.
The lesson for parents? For unmarried fathers in particular, it is essential to formally establish custody and placement as soon as possible, even if the parents are cooperating, and even if they are living together. Doing so will cement the father’s rights if cooperation with the mother breaks down later. For separated or divorcing parents, it is also wise to establish a custody and placement schedule to clearly define each parent’s rights and expectations. I have extensive experience addressing these issues and encourage any parent with questions to contact me for a consultation. Better yet, attend our Free Program by reserving your seat today: https://khtlawyers.com/local/request_form.aspx?form_id=9&event_id=25914&event_type_id=8014
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