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Debate ensues over fathers’ rights in paternity cases

A lively debate over the custody rights of unwed fathers is going on in another state. Maryland readers may want to pay attention to this debate, as it raises important issues with respect to Maryland’s own paternity laws.

A proposal now under debate in this other state’s legislature would apply to unwed couples who establish paternity of their child by agreement as opposed to going to court. The proposal would expand fathers’ rights substantially, giving them the exact same rights to custody of the child that the mother enjoys.

Practically, this means that in cases to which this proposal would apply, a father will have just as much as a right to care for and control his child’s life as would a mother. He would not need a court order to have the child live in his home. Then again, neither would the mother. Still, presumably either parent could still file a paternity action and thereby obtain a court order setting boundaries for custody, visitation and child support.

Critics of this Arizona proposal suggest that it gives unwed fathers too much power. Under this proposal, these fathers could, even after years of absence, enter the child’s life and demand or even force the mother to give him custody. Particularly in a situation in which the father was abusive to the mother, critics say that this procedure will run contrary to the best interests of the child.

Proponents of this bill, on the other hand, say that the status quo allows a child’s mother to control a father’s rights to have a relationship with his child and unfairly puts the onus on the father to go to court and get a custody or visitation order. Moreover, currently an absent mother can suddenly re-appear and take the child out of a loving father’s care.

Child custody laws in any state are made in order to protect the best interests of the children involved. Parents who hope to use the legal system to provide the best arrangement for their child can benefit from contacting a legal professional who understands Maryland family law as it pertains to child custody.

Source: The Arizona Republic, “Bill offering custody to unwed fathers has downside,” Feb. 7, 2013

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