A Guide to Father’s Rights in California
In California, mothers and fathers have equal parental rights and responsibilities according to family law.
However, some fathers feel that their rights are ignored in favor of mothers during divorces, when custody, parenting, visitation and support issues arise. In fairness, some mothers also claim the same.
Both parents should expect equal treatment and it is generally considered best for the children when both parents are involved in raising them. However, legal assistance from a family lawyer is sometimes required to ensure that a father’s rights are protected during the stressful period of a divorce.
During and after the divorce process in California, a father enjoys the following rights:
- Inclusion and involvement in their children’s lives
- Spending adequate parenting time with the children
- Having an equal say in important decisions, such as where they live and their education, healthcare, religion, etc.
- Access to school and medical records
- Parenting without interference from the other parent
A father also carries considerable responsibilities towards their children, including:
- Providing financial support
- Protecting them from harm and neglect
- Providing access to suitable education and healthcare
In most cases, the healthiest situation for all concerned is when the parents can discuss matters amicably and agree to make decisions in the best interests of their children. No court order is required by either parent to obtain these rights or to exercise these responsibilities during a divorce.
If everything is agreed and demonstrably in the best interests of the children, judges in California are reluctant to intervene and should approve the arrangement. However, the family law courts have the power to make provisions that protect parental rights as well as the best interests of the children, if necessary.
Common mistakes made by fathers during a divorce
The California Family Code acts as a roadmap for divorce and family law cases in the state. It includes provisions for the key issues of support, property, custody and parenting.
Fathers can help protect their rights by not making any of these common mistakes…
Trying to out-litigate the mother
Spending more than the mother and driving up costs when litigating a divorce does not usually make sense and may land you in trouble with the Californian family courts.
Most issues and disputes are best settled in mediation or negotiation rather than by a judge. Unless you act reasonably during the divorce process, as required by public policy in the state, you can face financial sanctions by the court.
By unreasonably over-litigating a divorce to try to “beat” the wife financially, you will not advance your father’s rights in any way — and it may end up harming both your financial position and your credibility with the court.
Paying for things you don’t need to pay for
Another potential mistake made by fathers is paying for things that are not their responsibility to pay for — and thereby eating into dwindling finances. Divorces can be costly enough without having to foot the bill for unnecessary expenses.
For instance, the court may order fathers to pay a certain amount of child support to help raise the child and spousal support to ease the transition to an independent life. Separately, the mother may ask for additional expenses — but they may not be the responsibility of the father and, if you pay them, it can demotivate the mother to find an alternative source of income.
Surrendering custody and parental rights
A father should never surrender any custody or parental rights voluntarily. Such a decision could not only be one that you later regret but it could also harm the well-being of the child.
Generally, absent any threat to the child (e.g., from violence or substance abuse), regular contact with both parents is considered to be in a child’s best interests. The father’s role in the upbringing of children is regarded as essential and California laws protect this, making it unlawful to discriminate against anyone’s gender (including in divorce and custody cases).
The father’s rights should not be given up voluntarily. Seek legal advice if you’re somehow being pressured into doing this.
Failure to request modifications of court orders
When judges issue orders, they base the rulings on the circumstances at the time. If these circumstances change substantially, the old orders will still apply unless the father or mother requests a modification.
For instance, say you lose your job and find a new position that pays 25 percent less than the previous job. The court order(s) for child support and spousal support based on the old salary will be out of date but will still apply until you request the judge to issue a modified order. Failure to request this can cripple your finances.
Similarly, if the amount of parenting time that a father spends with the children changes materially, a new child support order may be required to reflect this.
Visitation and father’s rights
Under California’s laws, mothers and fathers are entitled to visitation rights and frequent contact with the child — and an opportunity to be involved in all aspects of his/her life as the “noncustodial” parent.
Flexible appointment schedules can account for both parents’ needs and the child’s age. For instance, if the father is the noncustodial parent, he may be permitted more time with the child at weekends and in the summer, if that is convenient.
Child support and father’s rights
The noncustodial parent will be responsible for paying child support in California and parents and judges are provided with a set of guidelines for calculating this requirement.
The amount of support payable is generally based on the paying parent’s income and other relevant factors — and the paying parent will be expected to pay on time until the child reaches the age of majority (18), at least. Fines, garnished wages or even jail time are possible if the child support payments are not met.
Remember, if a support order is out of date due to a significant change of circumstances, a parent must request a modification before any new arrangement legally comes into effect.
Child Custody and father’s rights
Custody can be determined through an informal agreement between parents in California. As long as it is in the best interests of the child, the court should approve it.
Otherwise, a court order can be issued to declare where the child should live (sometimes called ”physical custody”), parental visitation and who is responsible for making decisions for the child (“legal custody”).
If you’re based in California and you need to assert or protect your father’s rights during a divorce, the family attorneys at The Sands Law Group APLC can help. Contact us or call at 213-788-4412 today for a free 15-minute phone consultation about your case.