Fathers’ Rights in Pennsylvania

Whenever the courts make decisions about child custody, parental rights, visitation, or any other questions regarding the parent-child relationship, they look primarily to the best interests of the child.  In some families, that may mean reducing the rights of one or both parents to care for and access the child.  Pennsylvania law protects both parents equally in determining rights and responsibilities.

However, there are issues unique to being a father that the law does not mirror for mothers.  To understand your rights as a father in Pennsylvania, talk to a family law attorney.  The Philadelphia child custody and family lawyers at The Sadek and Cooper Law Offices may be able to help you understand and exercise your rights to child custody, and help you have the legal relationship with your children than you desire.  For a free consultation on your case, call 215-814-0395 today.

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Fathers’ Custody Laws in PA

Parents with custody over their children have a bundle of “custody” rights that allow them to manage the decisions in their children’s lives.  These rights extend to many areas of life, but are particularly recognized for decisions regarding:

  • Home life,
  • Healthcare,
  • Education,
  • Religion, and
  • Discipline.

To have these rights, you need to have custody of the child.  Custody can be categorized in multiple ways.  Regarding fathers’ rights, the typical question of “legal custody” comes down to “sole custody” vs. “shared custody.”  In any situation where there are two parents, there is shared custody.  For example, the following parents each share custody of their children:

  • Two married parents who live together;
  • Two divorced parents who both are involved in their shared children’s lives;
  • Two unmarried parents who live separately, but are both involved in the children’s lives; and
  • A parent who always has the children, and a second parent who gets supervised visitation rights.

In contrast, sole custody exists in cases where only one parent has any control over the children, and the other parent is deceased, has given up custody, or has been stripped of custody by a court.

Just because you have legal custody does not mean that your child is always with you.  This is a separate issue in custody cases, and deals with “physical custody.”  Whenever your children are with you, you have physical custody of them.  Alternatively, when parents share custody, but live separately, the children will usually spend more time with one parent.  The parent who has physical custody most of the time is called the “custodial parent,” and the other parent is called the “non-custodial parent.”  In many situations, children may stay with one parent throughout most of the week, and stay with the other parent on weekends, holidays, or during the summer.  In that case, both parents may have “legal custody,” but one “custodial parent” has “physical custody” the majority of the time.

A custodial parent may have more control over day-to-day issues, such as what to eat or how to get to soccer practice, but both parents with legal custody get to jointly decide on big issues like education, religion, and healthcare.  These decisions are part of your rights as a parent.

Getting Custody as a Father

Despite popular belief, the law does not have any preference for whether a mother or father gets custody of the child.  In examining custody factors, courts want to place children with the parent that will be best able to:

  • Spend time with the children,
  • Help them learn and grow,
  • Tend to their emotional needs,
  • Have the lowest risk of exposing the children to addiction or abuse,
  • Foster relationships with extended family and the other parent, and
  • Have their best interests in mind.

If that parent is the mother, the court may award the mother custody; but if that parent is the father, the courts should be equally willing to award the father custody.

Sometimes, fathers are not given custody, even when they make more money, have higher education, and have a full-time job.  This may happen because, while the father could be making more money, the father does not have time to spend with the children.  Because child support can help pay for a child’s needs regardless of which parent has physical custody, courts may not always look at employment and education of the parent as the defining factors.

Paternity Claims and Paternity Rights

If you are trying to claim paternity over a child that has been raised by someone else, the law becomes very complicated.  Always talk to an attorney about these issues to best assert your case in court, where a judge can help enforce your rights.

There are many laws on the books that are relics of older times, where paternity and DNA testing did not exist (or were not as reliable).  Many of these laws deal with determining who the father is, and whose name is put on the birth certificate.  These may cause complications – or help fathers achieve custody.

If the child is born to a married woman, the law deems the mother’s husband to be the child’s legal father, even if he is not biologically the father.  Parties can choose to put a different father on the birth certificate, but may decide not to.  This can only be changed with paternity testing or a court order that proves otherwise.  In situations where the mother and father are not married, 23 Pa.C.S. § 5101(b) allows a man to be deemed the child’s father in 3 ways:

  1. The parents later marry each other;
  2. The father holds the child out to be his child, takes him into his home, and provides support for the child; or
  3. If there is “clear and convincing evidence” that the man is the father (including a court’s determination of paternity).

If you are trying to exert your rights as a father, these rules may help you.

Note that, since the Supreme Court decision in Pavan v. Smith (2017), any of these rules that specifically apply to a father, a man, or the husband of the mother should also equally apply to a woman in same-sex marriage with the child’s mother, even if she is not the biological parent.  These laws may also help non-biological fathers (e.g. stepfathers) get custody.

Philadelphia Fathers’ Rights Lawyers

The Philadelphia paternity lawyers at The Sadek and Cooper Law Offices may be able to help you with your custody claims, paternity claims, or other fathers’ rights issues in Pennsylvania.  For a free consultation with our family law attorneys, call 215-814-0395 today.

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