Fathers’ Rights Attorneys in Spartanburg, SC
In the past, fathers were considered the underdog in family law proceedings. It was once assumed that during a divorce, it was in the best interests of the child for the mother to have custody. In fact, giving custody to the mother was generally the default position of the courts, especially when the children were very young. This was applied in the South Carolina courts under what was known as the “Tender Years Doctrine.”
In 2012, the South Carolina legislature abolished the Tender Years Doctrine, putting both parents in a divorce or separation case on equal legal footing in child custody proceedings. State law now acknowledges father’s rights and the need for a father to be involved in the life of his child. This means that fathers and mothers to a divorce case go into a legal proceeding with equal rights to their children and without any presumptions that are based on the gender of the parent. The only allowable presumption now is in favor of the parent who has historically served as the primary caregiver.
Although the law says that mothers and fathers are equal in the eyes of the court, the reality is that oftentimes, the father still faces an uphill battle. When there is a legal proceeding in which there is a significant dispute between the parents, fathers must be prepared to fight for their right to maintain a meaningful role in their child’s life. If you are a father who is in this position, you need strong legal counsel in your corner advocating forcefully for your rights and interests.
The Cate Law Firm, P.A. is a full-service firm that has several decades of experience helping clients in South Carolina resolve some of their most complex family legal matters. We know that disputes over children are among the most stressful and emotionally charged issues, and we are skilled advocates who work tirelessly to help obtain favorable results on behalf of each client we serve. We strongly believe in father’s rights and the important role a father plays in the lives of his children, and we are here to help you effectively assert these rights.
Paternity Actions for Fathers in South Carolina
Approximately half of all children in South Carolina are born to unwed parents. And while parents who are married have equal rights to the children they have together, this is not true when a child is born out of wedlock. When this is the case, Section 63-17-20(B) of South Carolina law applies:
Unless the court orders otherwise, the custody of an illegitimate child is solely in the natural mother unless the mother has relinquished her rights to the child. If paternity has been acknowledged or adjudicated, the father may petition the court for rights of visitation or custody in a proceeding before the court apart from an action to establish paternity.
In other words, the father who is not married to the mother has no legal rights or connection to the child until he establishes paternity and petitions the court for custody or visitation. At this point, his name does not have to be on the birth certificate, he has no legal right to see the child, and he has no legal say in decisions such as medical treatment, religious upbringing, and education.
Establishing paternity is simple if a couple is married when the child is born. Paternity is automatically assumed to lie with a mother’s husband, regardless of whether or not he is, in fact, the biological father. When the father is not married to the mother, the establishment of paternity is a more involved process, and additional legal steps must be taken.
When a father and mother both agree on who the biological father of the child is, they can voluntarily acknowledge paternity. There is a form available called a Voluntary Paternity Acknowledgement which may be completed and filed with the Office of Vital Records in order to add a father’s name is added to the birth certificate. In the alternative, if the parties are involved in a family court action, they can agree for the Court to adjudicate the father’s paternity as part of that action.
If the parents do not agree and the father wants to establish paternity, this can be done by seeking a DNA or genetic test through the Division of Social Services (DSS) or a private lab. If the mother does not want to cooperate with the test, a court order can be obtained to compel her to cooperate. If the test establishes paternity, then the father’s name can be added to the birth certificate.
It is important to note that establishing paternity is only the first step for a father who is not married to the mother and wants to be involved in his child’s life. This process in and of itself does not provide any father’s rights, even if you have been ordered by the court to pay child support. You must proceed with the next step of petitioning the court for child custody and visitation rights. Hopefully, you and the mother can work cooperatively on this matter to avoid a costly legal battle.
Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation
Whether you are a father who has established paternity or you are getting a divorce from the mother of your child, your child custody proceeding will be a critical step in establishing or maintaining your right to be a part of your child’s life. There is no standard child custody and visitation plan, and as we have covered earlier, mothers and fathers are now on equal legal footing (although fathers may still have to overcome some additional hurdles to establish their rights).
Each individual case is unique, and the court considers several factors to determine what is ultimately in the best interests of the child. These include:
- The age, temperament, and developmental needs of the child;
- The ability of each parent to understand and meet the needs of the child;
- The wishes of each parent with regards to custody and visitation;
- The preferences of the child;
- The established relationship of the child with each parent;
- The child’s relationship with siblings or any other individuals they are close to;
- The actions of each parent to encourage the relationship the child has with the other parent;
- Any actions (regarding the child) that are deceitful, coercive, manipulative, or otherwise designed to involve the child in a dispute between the parents;
- The ability of each parent to maintain an active role in the life of the child;
- The stability of the child’s current residence and proposed future residence;
- The mental and physical health of the parents, child, and others who are involved;
- The cultural and spiritual background of the child;
- Any history of abuse or neglect of the child on the part of either parent;
- Any issues with distance, such as if one parent has relocated out of state or a significant distance from the child’s primary residence;
- Any other factors the court may deem relevant in considering the best interests of the child.
Contact an Experienced Spartanburg, SC Attorney for Father’s Rights
Barring exceptional circumstances, the state of South Carolina acknowledges fathers’ rights to be involved in their children’s lives. At the Cate Law Firm, our seasoned family law attorneys are ready to help protect your rights as a father.
Call us today at (864) 585-4226 for a personalized consultation with one of our attorneys. You may also message us through our online contact form or stop by our Spartanburg office in person at your convenience.