Being a parent comes with both rights and responsibilities. These parental custody rights are bestowed by state law any time a parent-child relationship is established. Some of these rights and responsibilities are very hard to change, others the parents can agree to change fairly easily.
Who gets parental custody rights?
The law generally establishes one father and one mother for each child, through recognition of parentage for same-sex partners is becoming more common. For most children, it is easy to determine who their parents are. Most children are born into two-parent homes and the child’s mother and father will split parental custody rights. Even in nontraditional families, a child’s mother is usually obvious. The woman that birthed a child is typically going to have all the legal rights of motherhood unless the mother is found to be unfit.
A father’s rights can be a bit more complicated. The law generally just recognizes one father for each child. Each state makes the determination differently, but typically the husband of the mother is presumed to be the father unless evidence later proves that is not the case. Another person that thinks he is the child’s father will usually have to bring a parentage case and seek to have genetic testing to prove he is the biological father. Even then, there is no guarantee that a genetic father will obtain parental custody rights. Being the genetic father just creates an opportunity to legally become the father. If the genetic father fails to take the opportunity and the child is raised by another person, like the mother’s husband, then the biological father may never be able to gain parental custody rights.
Parental custody comes in two main forms. The first is legal custody. A parent with legal custody has the parental custody rights to make big-picture decisions about a child’s life. Legal custody is usually shared between divorced parents. That means, for example, that both of the divorced parents will have to agree on where a child will go to school. The other form of custody is physical custody. On a given day, one divorced parent will typically have physical custody and that parent will be allowed to make all the day-to-day decisions about the child’s life. For example, the child with physical custody will usually decide what the child is having for dinner. Physical custody is often shared evenly, but that may not always be feasible.
One parent can claim the tax breaks that come along with child custody. As a result, parents that have split up will often have to work out some type of agreement for them to share the tax benefits of having children. This is an important point that no parent should forget.
The parent with physical custody over the child will often be entitled to some monetary support from the other spouse. This can vary widely from state to state but generally is only available if the noncustodial ex-spouse earns more than the spouse with parental custody rights. It is an important issue to explore, however, as one parent can find taking on the formerly-shared costs of raising a child to be incredibly costly.