fathers rights

Certainly one of the most distressing things for fathers on the breakup of a marriage or non-marital relationship is the risk of losing contact with their children. The Family Law Act of 1975, however, does not speak in terms of father’s rights or mother’s rights, but of the rights of children to:

  •        protection from physical or psychological harm and
  •        the meaningful involvement of both parents in their lives

Quite frankly, though, your ability to remain meaningfully involved in your children’s lives will likely depend on the cooperation of your former spouse or partner. Failing that, you may need to seek legal intervention to protect your ability to share parental responsibility.

What Rights do Fathers Have?

It may be helpful to reduce father’s rights to a broadly inclusive list. You generally have the right to:

  1. Establish paternity. At the end of a marriage, this is often not an issue, as the mother’s husband is generally presumed to be the father of the child. However, in an unmarried relationship, this can be necessary. It is the threshold issue on which many other rights depend, although adoptive fathers and stepfathers may also have rights.
  2. Maintain an ongoing relationship with the children. This can mean many things beyond visitation and custody, of course, including phone contact and participation in school and community activities.
  3. Spend time with the children on a regular basis. Note that this does not necessarily mean equal time. Studies suggest that very young children require close contact with their mother that should only be briefly interrupted. In case you have never met an adolescent or do not recall having ever been one, they often want to have a great deal of input into where and with whom they spend their time.
  4. If you share joint legal custody of your children, you have the right to share in decisions about things like education, religion and medical care. Note, however, that courts are reluctant to grant joint legal custody where parents do not have a good history of collaborative decision making, a characteristic of many estranged couples.
  5. To prevent a third-party adoption.
  6. Finally, the children have a right to continued financial support, which you will have the corresponding obligation to provide.

How to Protect Your Rights as a Father

No rights are absolute, of course, and if you have been absent from your children’s lives for some time, it may be difficult to persuade either your ex or a court that you should be able to exercise the privilege to participate in your children’s lives in the ways outlined above. These rights can also be forfeited or curtailed in the event of family violence, drug or alcohol abuse or violation of a parenting order.

The best way to protect your children’s right to your participation in their lives is to develop a shared parenting plan before disputes arise, stick to it religiously, always keep children out of conflicts with their mother and continue to show love and support for them no matter what difficulties may arise.

No one relishes the image of warring parents pulling a distressed child in different directions. Remember that the law is designed to protect children’s rights, not those of parents. If, however, you believe that your efforts to be a good father are being deliberately thwarted by your former partner, it may be necessary to seek legal assistance. The family lawyers at Owen Hodge Lawyers would be happy to advise you. Please call us to schedule a consultation at 1800 770 780.