Being a parent is certainly not easy under any circumstances. It is especially not easy when you are going through a divorce and have to determine where your parental rights and responsibilities lie.
Hopefully, you will never find yourself in this type of situation. But, just in case you do, it is important to understand what parental rights are, especially as they pertain to your state, and how they could potentially affect you and your child.
What Is A Parent?
When you ask yourself, “what is a parent?” the answer probably seems relatively simple. To most people, this is someone who has birthed a child.
However, as far as the law is concerned, this definition can get somewhat tricky, especially when parental rights come into play.
According to the law in most states, a parent is generally considered to be someone who has legal custody of a child, whether actual birthrights come into play or not.
It is also important to understand that, under the United States law, there can never have more than two people with legal custody over a child at one time.
In an ideal situation, the two people who have custody over the child are his or her birth parents, I.e. a mother and father or, in cases of gay marriage, the birth mother and chosen mother or the birth father and chosen father.
Whatever the case may be, the limit is two, but the “parents” are not always birth parents. Adoptive parents may come into play or legal guardians, which are often other family members who have been granted custody over the child.
The bottom line is that any two people who have custody over a child are considered the “parents” whether that relation is legitimate by birth or not.
What Are The Rights Of A Parent?
Whether you are a birth parent or not, if you are the legal guardian or, for all legal purposes, the “parent” of a child under the law, then you do have certain parental rights that come into play.
While you might not think much about these rights on a day to day basis, they may come into question and be of importance if your status as a parent is ever questioned or ruled about in a court of law.
While, hopefully, you will never find yourself in this type of situation, it is still wise to know your parental rights and what they are.
So, with that said, what are they?
While parental rights do vary somewhat from state to state, the general rights you have as a parent are that:
Understanding parental rights can make it easier to avoid being taken advantage of or having your rights violated, though it is important to understand that, in many cases, parental rights can be fully or somewhat shared, depending on custody rulings and regulations.
What Are The Responsibilities Of A Parent?
Being a parent isn’t just about getting control over a child. It also comes with some real responsibility involved.
For example, parents are required by law to meet the basic needs of a child. Not doing so can subject them to legal action and could mean that their parental rights get taken away.
In addition to meeting basic needs for food and shelter, parents also have financial responsibility for their children, which may look like taking care of the child or may come in the form of court-ordered child support.
Additionally, parents are also responsible for the protection, health, education, and overall well-being of their children. Being a parent, by birth or by law, is a wonderful thing, but it definitely does, as you can see, come with its fair share of responsibility.
Understanding The Various Types Of Custody
Now that you understand the various parental rights, you should also understand that not every parent has full custody of a child. There are actually many different types of custody that exist. And, if you’re going through a divorce or otherwise entering into a situation in which you might not have full custody, it’s important to understand the different options.
Basically, when two parents are married to one another and have a child, they both have parental rights. They don’t have to even think about custody or splitting their rights and responsibilities. They are both just parents, period. Things can get murky, however, when there’s a divorce or separation or when someone else wants to step in and parent the child, like a grandparent or an adoptive parent.
Whatever the case may be, it is common for one parent to have joint physical custody or to share joint physical custody with another parent. In this type of custody, one parent or both parents have real, physical time with the child. Each parent may end up with equal amounts of time or with one parent having more time than the other. Specifics of this type of custody, when it is shared, can be worked out in court.
Joint legal custody is another common type of custody situation. In this situation, one parent will have the child live with him or her, either exclusively or almost exclusively. However, the other parent may still get visitations with the child and will also still play a role in making important decisions about the child and his or her overall well-being.
When one parent cannot or will not take responsibility for the child or has serious problems that make him or her a danger to the child, a judge may choose to grant sole custody to one parent. In this situation, the non-custodial parent may lose all rights, including visitation rights, to the child.
If you are in a situation where you are having to fight for custody, whether it’s full custody or partial custody, you should know that there are many things you can do to increase your chances of being awarded the custody you want and deserve.
First of all, remember that it is up to you to show the court that you are a good parent and that you provide for the physical well-being of the child. Be prepared to show that your child has a safe, fit place to sleep. Show that your child eats healthily and well when with you. Show any activities that you involve the child in that are good for him or her, like sports or recreational clubs or classes. The more ways in which you can show that you are a good parent, the better.
Also, unless you are afraid for your child to visit the other parent for valid reasons, you should not purposefully try to keep the child away from the parent, especially if you are going against custody or visitation rights already set in place. Doing so, especially if the other parent can prove that you have done so, can actually hurt your chances of getting custody. Judges want to see parents who can work together in the best interest of the children. A parent who doesn’t do so looks selfish and irresponsible, not like the kind of person a judge would want to grant custody to.
If you do have legitimate concerns about the child’s safety or well-being when with the other parent, be prepared to show that your concerns are valid. Save up any evidence you can, like pictures of bruises you spot on a child, threatening text messages from the other parent, or arrests or violent behavior on the part of the other parent. The more you can prove your concerns are valid, the greater your chances of having the judge listen to them and give you the outcome you want.
Also, when possible, don’t try to fight for custody alone. You need someone who knows the legal system on your side. Look for a qualified lawyer experienced with these types of cases. Yes, such a lawyer can be hard to afford, but look for someone who will work with you on payments. Do whatever you can to get the help you need to protect your child and your parental rights.
Work Together When You Can
The bottom line is that, when possible, you should always try to work with the other parent. When you can’t do that, though, follow our tips and seek legal representation. Eventually, the parental rights will get sorted out.