Fathers’ Rights in Pennsylvania
What rights does a father in Pennsylvania have if he’s contemplating divorce, already in divorce proceedings, or has been served with divorce papers?
Issues of child custody — and child support — naturally loom large, but sometimes simply establishing paternity can be a legal challenge since Pennsylvania does not assume the person named on the birth certificate as father is legally the father.
Divorces can be emotionally and financially taxing events that can spiral out of control if two feuding parents try to go it alone.
If you’re in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area, call the law offices of Marc V. Taiani, Esquire and Allegheny Attorneys At Law, P.C. For the past two decades, I have been helping mediate divorces and establish child custody agreements to the satisfaction of both parents.
Establishing Paternity in Pennsylvania
If you’re a father fighting for child custody rights in Pennsylvania, you may first have to prove your paternity.
A Pennsylvania birth certificate is not sufficient legal proof of paternity. A mother can put any man’s name on the document, father or not. In most cases, especially when marriage occurs before the child’s birth, paternity probably will not be an issue.
In cases where paternity becomes an issue, however, even a DNA test might not be sufficient for establishing fatherhood. Both voluntary and involuntary means exist to do so.
If a father is not married to the mother of the child at the time of birth, he must voluntarily acknowledge his paternity through a variety of circumstances:
The child’s unmarried parents must later marry and attest to parenthood
The father in an unmarried relationship must acknowledge the birth with a legal document called acknowledgment of paternity
The father must marry the mother and agree to support the child and/or legitimize his name on the birth certificate
The father must welcome the child and openly call them his own
A court must grant equitable parent rights in light of the close relationship between father and child
Paternity can be established involuntarily through a paternity lawsuit, for which the alleged father must submit to DNA testing. Paternity lawsuits are often initiated when the mother is receiving public assistance. Either the state or the mother herself can file the lawsuit.
Fathers' Rights in Custody Issues
When it comes to the children of divorcing parents, it is usually best if the mother and father can agree on custody, visitation, and support issues and then submit a parenting agreement to the court. If they can’t agree, the court will issue its own controlling order.
What factors does the court consider in settling the issue of custody? The court will attempt to determine “the best interest of the child.” It will take into consideration the child’s physical, mental, emotional, and developmental well-being based on:
The location of each parent
The mental and physical condition of the parents
The child’s wishes
One factor the courts are directed not to use in their determination is gender. Pennsylvania law requires custody issues to be gender-neutral. When both parents are deemed competent caregivers, the court presumes each parent has equal custody rights to their child, i.e., joint custody. However, in most cases, a primary custodian may still be named.
After the court determines its position, it will issue a custody order. One parent will often be declared the custodian, and the other – all factors being equal – will be granted visitation rights, whether those rights consist of partial physical custody, shared physical custody, or supervised physical custody.
Fathers' Rights in Child Support Determinations
Both parents have a financial obligation to support their child, or children, based on Pennsylvania law. Depending on financial and other factors, the custodial parent in a divorce may be awarded a monthly child support payment, to be tendered by the noncustodial parent. Support payments typically last until the child turns 18.
Under Pennsylvania law, the paying parent is known as the obligor. The law specifies a formula for the awarding of child support payments. First, the obligor’s net monthly income and living expenses must be determined. From that, the monthly payment is calculated based on the number of children to be supported, plus their monthly child care, health insurance, medical, and school expenses. If the obligor has custodial rights for a number of days each month, that proportion will be deducted from the monthly payment.
Working with an Experienced Family Law Attorney Is Essential
Pennsylvania recognizes both fault and no-fault divorces. At-fault divorces can make collaborative proceedings with a mediator difficult, as one spouse is accusing the other of having broken the marriage bonds through adultery, abandonment, domestic violence, cruelty, and the like.
No-fault divorces assign no blame on either party; the parties just mutually declare an “irretrievable breakdown.” If one party objects to the declaration of a breakdown, then the divorcing party generally must prove the couple has lived separately for at least two years.
When there is a mutual consent to no-fault divorce, collaborating on a parenting agreement for child custody and support issues is often the most advantageous avenue for both parents. Fathers especially should not just “give up” and let the chips fall as they may in court, but exercise their rights and aspirations with the guidance and help of a family law attorney.
I have been working with couples on family law issues for nearly two decades and have frequently mediated between divorcing parents to help them achieve mutually satisfactory results. Whether your divorce is fault or no fault, or if there is mediation or not, rest assured that I will provide you with sound legal guidance for your future and the well-being of your child.
If you live in Pittsburgh or nearby in the communities of Indiana Township, Aspinwall, Shaler Township, Penn Hills, contact me at the law offices of Marc V. Taiani, Esquire and Allegheny Attorneys At Law, P.C., so we can get started.