In 2014, a judge in Talbot County, Maryland, gave custody of a 14 year old girl to Mrs. Hostetter, writing in his memorandum opinion that as “an adolescent female, this may be the most important time in her life to have a solid relationship with her mother.”

What’s wrong with this decision? It ignores father’s rights.

Father’s Rights Matter

While the judge may have been correct about the importance of the mother-daughter relationship, he was wrong about the law.

In an unreported opinion in March of 2105, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the decision as contrary to state law and cases.

In 1974, Maryland abandoned by statute the maternal preference doctrine, under which father’s rights were ignored and children were presumed to belong with their mother.

And in 1998, the Maryland Court of Appeals, held that the state’s Equal Rights Amendment prohibits custody determinations based on gender.

The Maryland legislature is currently considering a bill that would create a rebuttable presumption in favor of joint physical custody.  Sponsors of the bill say such a presumption is necessary to prevent a latent preference by judges to award custody to mothers rather than fathers.

This would be an important recognition of father’s rights.

A trend toward shared parenting acknowledges father’s rights.

Arkansas passed a law last year providing for “approximate and reasonable equal division of time” of children between parents in divorce proceedings.

The Connecticut General Assembly has created a task force to study family law issues, including whether the state should have a presumption in law that shared custody is in the best interest of children.

The Maryland General Assembly created a Commission on Child Custody Decision Making last year.

Florida pass a shared parenting bill last year, but it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Minnesota passed a bill in 2012 that would have increased the minimum amount of custody from 25% to 35%, but it was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Contracts and Father’s Rights

William Marotta of Topeka, Kansas, answered an ad on Craigslist to be a sperm donor for a lesbian couple who wanted a child. He signed a contract saying he would have no father’s rights nor parental rights nor responsibilities.

Following the birth, the mother, the child’s mother, Jennifer Schreiner, applied for public assistance. The Kansas Department for Children and Families has paid her about $6,000 in public assistance. That agency filed suit against Marotta to recoup the money saying that he owes back and future child support.

Besides the contract, there is a law in Kansas that exempts sperm donors from child support claims. Judge Mary Mattivi pointed out, however, that the law does not apply unless a licensed physician performs the artificial insemination. There was no licensed physician in this case.

Father’s Rights, Wanted or Not

The judge also said that a private contract cannot override the law and negate his father’s rights and Marotta is therefore the presumptive father of the child. Whether Marotta has to pay child support is yet to be determined. What do you think?

Father’s Rights and Moves to Another State

Bode Miller, 36, Olympic skier, met Sara McKenna, 27, former marine, through an online dating service in April, 2012.  They dated briefly and she became pregnant with his child.  They were both living in California at the time.

Miller married someone else, and McKenna, seven months pregnant, decided to move to New York to go to college at Columbia University on the G.I. Bill.

In November 2012, Bode filed a “Petition to Establish Parental Relationship” in California, checking the box on the form to say he was the father of “a child who is not yet born”.

The baby was born in February 2013.  Two days later, McKenna filed her petition for custody in the New York Family Court.

There is a uniform law that governs child custody cases between the states which provides that the child’s “home state” has jurisdiction.  Since the baby was born in New York, that state should decide custody.

But the family judge in New York sent the case back to California saying she appropriated the child while in utero, which was “irresponsible” and “reprehensible”.  He gave custody to Miller and his new wife.

Then that order was overturned by a New York appeals court and the baby was returned to McKenna.  The cases continues as the two sides try to work out a parenting plan.

Needless to s

Parenting Plans Need to Respect Father’s Rights and Mother’s Rights

ay, it is spurring controversy among fathers’ rights and mothers’ rights activists regarding the right to relocate if you are pregnant.

A Story of Balancing Mother’s Rights and Father’s Rights

“My client was shocked to learn that your client has enrolled their 5 year old son in the swim team at the community pool,” the letter from the mother’s divorce lawyer started.

The father’s lawyer scanned it to the father by email.  By the next day he had received three drafts of a four page letter from the father explaining all the benefits of swim team.  The father wanted the lawyer to send the letter to the mother’s attorney.

“Wait until I speak with her,” the lawyer told the father.

“Why?” asked the father.  “I want her to know, for the record, that I’m not the bad guy here.   And I didn’t do it just because my new girlfriend is the coach of the swim team.”

“First of all,” replied the father’s lawyer, “she won’t believe you.  Second, there is no record.  Third, I don’t try my case in letters.  And finally, I don’t know why, but my intuition and experience tell me to wait until I speak with opposing counsel.”

Five days later, the mother’s attorney called.  The mother was concerned that she had been left out of the decision making process.  She wanted to know how many lifeguards were on duty, their ages, and what training they had.  These were easy to provide and the problem was solved. The father’s letter was put in the file and never sent.

Guest post by Lauren Williams, staff writer at King Law Offices, Family Law Attorneys in NC & SC.

In Maryland, a child’s entitlement to support does not depend upon parents’ marital status. Every child is entitled to a level of support in proportion to the parents’ economic position regardless of whether the child is born of wedlock or out-of-wedlock or to parents whose marriage ended in divorce.  As with children of divorce, children born out-of-wedlock are entitled to fairness and equity in regard to child support.

“Born out-of-wedlock” means born to an unmarried female or born to a married female but begotten during the continuance of the marriage status by one other than her husband.

Under Md. Code Ann., Est. & Trusts § 1-206(a) there is a presumption that the child is a legitimate child if the child is born or conceived during a marriage. A child born to parents who are not married is considered to be the child of the mother. Pursuant to Md. Code Ann., Est. & Trusts § 1-208(b), the ‘father and child relationship’ can be established in one of the following four methods: (1) Judicial determination of paternity, (2) Acknowledgment by father in writing that he is the father of the child, (3) Open and notorious recognition by the father that he is the father of the child, or (4) Acknowledgment by father that he is the father of the child after marrying the mother.

The Paternity Statute (Fam. Law §§ 5-1001 through 5-1048) provides a rebuttable presumption that the child is the legitimate child of the man to whom child’s mother was married at the time of conception. Upon request of a party, the court may order the parties (mother, child and the father) to submit to blood or genetic tests to determine the paternity. If the test reveals a statistical probability of the father’s paternity of at least 99.0%, it may be received into evidence and constitutes a rebuttable presumption of the paternity.  The court may pass necessary orders declaring the father based on the test.  The court may also pass necessary orders for 1, support, 2. Custody of the child, 3. Visitation rights with the child, 4. Giving bond, and 5. Any other matter that is related to the general welfare and best interests of the child.

If the child was conceived during a marriage, mere declaration by father claiming to be the father of a child born out-of-wedlock is not sufficient to overcome the presumption of legitimacy of the child based on the time of conception.  In order to overcome the presumption, the father must provide certain proof(s) specified in Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law § 5-1027(c)(2), (3), and (4).

Maryland follows the income shares model for child support.  Under this model, a child is entitled to a standard of living that corresponds to the economic position and lifestyle of the parents.

Father’s Rights Can Get Complicated

Two of my friends called for some advice this week.  One is a father who is separated from the mother.  They have a little girl.  He wants to protect his father’s rights but the situation is complicated.

The mother has remarried and her new husband and my friend are in constant conflict over the child.  So far they have had disputes over visitation, clothing, discipline, medical treatment and sports.

As might be suspected, the mother sides with the new husband in these disputes.  I have suggested settlement, mediation and a parenting coordinator but the mother has rebuffed all of these suggestions.

My other friend is a stepfather.  He married a woman who has a little boy from a previous marriage.  The birth father sees the little boy from time to time but he lives far away and my friend really has the day to day parenting role.  He and the boy have become quite fond of each other.  My friend would adopt the boy if the father would agree.  He has all the obligations of fatherhood but none of the rights of a father.

Fathers and Stepfathers Should Cooperate

There are two sides to every issue.  It would be great if fathers and stepfathers could work together cooperatively for the benefit of the child.  But in many cases, there is too much emotion involved to make that possible.

Father’s Rights in Balance

A study by an Australian College has found that divorced and separated fathers are spending more time with their children than the traditional every other weekend visitation schedule.

Dr. Bruce Smyth sampled 408 separated parents.  He found that, regardless of the parenting arrangements, children usually moved between homes two to four times every two weeks.

The study found that separated parents were cooperating with each other in balancing their schedules with the children’s needs and being more flexible in their timesharing. This is good news for both father’s rights and mother’s rights.

Father’s Rights Under “Duress”

Danny Carr, Counselor and Attorney at Law, punched the button on his phone this morning to listen to messages left last night on his voice-mail.

“I need to hire you for a custody case.  This is Ken Woodard. Call me at 301-555-5555.”

Carr hit redial, and when someone answered, he said,  “Mr. Woodard, this is Danny Carr, returning your call.”

“I was forced to give up custody and visitation by my wife’s attorney by duress,” said Woodard.

“Did he hold a gun to your head? “

“No, but he told me I would lose if I didn’t agree.”

“That’s not duress.”

“OK, well then I found out I still have to pay child support.”

“Right.  Parents are obligated to support their children.”

“But if I don’t have custody or visitation, haven’t my parental rights been terminated?”

“No.  You are still the children’s father.”

“My wife accused me of neglecting and abusing the kids.  Can I file a petition to terminate my parental rights on the basis of her saying I’m an unfit parent?”

“No.  You can’t file a complaint against yourself to terminate your own parental rights.”

“That doesn’t sound right.”

“I have to go now, Mr. Woodard.  Good luck with your case.”