Understanding Parental Rights and Responsibilities
When you have a child, you are responsible for their basic needs, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, and education. You also have the right to spend time with your child, make major life decisions on their behalf, and share your assets and property with them.
When Do Parents Gain Rights and Responsibilities?
Women and married men gain parental rights and responsibilities the moment their babies are born. Unmarried men must establish paternity to gain legal custody of their child and take on father’s rights (parental rights and responsibilities). In New York, unmarried parents can establish paternity by signing an acknowledgement of paternity or getting a court order. Either parent may bring a paternity case in court.
What If Someone Does Not Want Parental Rights and Responsibilities?
If an unmarried woman gives birth to a child that she is unable or unwilling to raise, she can surrender her parental rights to make way for adoption. If the biological father has not established paternity, he will have no say in this decision.
If the baby has 2 legal parents, however, both parents will need to give up their legal rights to allow for an open or closed adoption. In some cases, one parent may voluntarily surrender their parental rights and responsibilities to make way for a stepparent adoption. In most cases, both parents remain responsible for their child because having 2 parents is in a child’s best interests, and family law courts always act in children’s best interests.
If you are the legal parent of a child, there is no way to avoid parental rights and responsibilities aside from giving your child up for adoption, which requires the consent of both legal parents. Nevertheless, you may not want to raise a child that is not yours, biologically. The state of New York will presume a woman’s husband is the father of her child. If a man disagrees with this presumption, he may file a paternity action with the court. If a paternity test reveals that the man is not the child’s biological father, he will not be responsible for that child.
Unmarried mothers can also file paternity actions to identify the father of their child and share parental rights and responsibilities with their child’s biological father. Whenever possible, the court will keep children with their legal and biological parents and uphold the rights and responsibilities of both parents.
What Are Parental Rights?
Parental rights are often linked to child custody cases because custody is a parental right. All legal parents have the right to physical and legal custody. Physical custody refers to who a child lives with and includes visitation. All legal parents have the right to spend time with their children – unless the court decides otherwise (see the ‘Can Parents Lose Their Rights’ section later in the blog).
Legal custody refers to decision-making. All legal parents have the right to make decisions about their children’s education, religious and moral upbringing, and health care. In most cases, parents share legal custody – even after a divorce.
Parental rights also include the right to enter a contract on your child’s behalf and the right to pass property to your child through gifts or inheritance. The court may limit these rights if doing so is in the best interest of the child, but legal parents are rarely deprived of their rights, and a divorce or child custody case will never end in the termination of your parental rights (this is a different legal proceeding known as a termination case).
What Are Parental Responsibilities?
In New York, parents are responsible for meeting their child’s basic needs. All legal parents must provide their children with food, clothing, housing, medical care, and education. Parents are also responsible for protecting their children from harm and abuse and meeting their financial needs until they turn 21.
There is no way to avoid parental responsibilities, but you can face consequences for failing to meet them.
Can Parents Lose Their Rights?
Yes. If a parent fails to meet their parental responsibilities, they can lose their parental rights. In New York, there are 5 grounds to terminate parental rights, including:
- Permanent neglect
- Mental illness
- Mental retardation
- Severe and repeated abuse
City agencies and foster care agencies are the only parties that may initiate a termination case. Your spouse may not initiate a termination case, and your parental rights may not be terminated in a child custody case.
The state does not take termination cases lightly, and terminating parental rights is a last resort designed to protect children from abuse and neglect.
How to Navigate Parental Rights and Responsibilities
Family law courts largely exist to protect children. When a baby is born, the court and its administrative branches help ensure the rights and responsibilities of each parent.
For mothers and married couples, the process is largely automatic, but unmarried parents may have to appear in court to establish paternity. The court can also help both married and unmarried parents surrender their rights to allow for adoption.
Otherwise, the court mostly intervenes in divorce cases, where couples may need help deciding how to share their parental rights and responsibilities.
Rarely, the court may terminate parental rights and responsibilities, mostly in cases of abuse and neglect.
Parental rights and responsibilities should be straightforward, and the court should not be involved very often. Whenever you are dealing with the court, however, you need an advocate by your side.
At Jason M. Barbara & Associates, P.C., we offer unwavering dedication to every parent who seeks out our services. We understand your family’s unique needs, and we work tirelessly to get you the results you need.
Our team has more than 20 years of experience advocating for parents, their children, and the best interests of families. Let us help you and your family navigate parental rights and responsibilities in the court system.We will guide you through each step as soon as you call us at (516) 406-8381">(516) 406-8381 or contact us online.