For fathers in Massachusetts, understanding one’s rights in a divorce can be complicated. While mothers have inherent parental rights that are awarded at the time of a child’s birth, the same is not necessarily true for fathers. What’s more, non-biological fathers will have an even more difficult time establishing parental rights and seeking custody or visitation with their non-biological children. Here’s what you should know about establishing paternity in Massachusetts and the rights of non-biological fathers—
Establishing Paternity in Massachusetts
Before a father will have any parental rights—including the right to seek custody of a child, seek visitation with a child, or have legal decision-making power regarding a child—they must first establish paternity. For parents who are married at the time of a child’s birth, paternity is automatically established. In other cases, both parents must sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form, or an individual may petition the court to establish paternity. Typically, these methods of establishing paternity are only relevant to biological fathers.
Rights of Adoptive Fathers
A non-biological father may have full legal parental rights related to a child if they are the child’s legal adoptive parent. Adoption is the process of legally establishing parental rights over a child, and once the adoption process has been concluded, the child’s adoptive parents are the child’s legal parents. This means that if the parents separate or divorce, both adoptive parents have the right to petition the court for custody, visitation, and legal decision-making authority. Note that birth parents must surrender their parental rights (or, alternatively, the state has legally terminated one’s parental rights) in order for an adoption to proceed.
Rights of Stepfathers
While the rights of adoptive fathers are the same as the rights of biological fathers, the rights of stepfathers can be more complex, particularly when the stepparent has not pursued adoption of the stepchild. While it is unlikely for a stepparent to be awarded full custody of a child or legal decision-making authority, a stepparent may seek visitation with a stepchild in the event of a divorce. In order for the request for visitation to be granted, the stepparent must be able to prove that maintaining a relationship with the child is within the child’s best interests and that terminating the relationship would be detrimental to the child. Stepparents who have been in a child’s life for many years and have played an important role in raising a child are more likely to win their requests for visitation.
Call the Law Office of Heather M. Ward to Learn More About Parental Rights for Non-Biological Fathers in MA
At the Law Office of Heather M. Ward, we understand that requesting visitation, custody, or legal decision-making authority for a non-biological child can be a complicated family law matter. If you are a non-biological father who is pursuing parental rights, reach out to our law firm directly for the legal support you can count on. You can reach Attorney Heather M. Ward by phone at (617) 903-8955 or online to get started.