Taking care of a child is a monumental task that involves both physical caretaking and making decisions that impact a child’s daily and long-term life. While the specific duties shift over time as the child ages, the responsibilities of a parent never completely go away. Most parents perform these as simply a part of fulfilling this role, and a parent may never stop to consider whether he or she qualifies as a legal parent, or what this designation even means.
The designation of legal parent brings a number of rights and obligations that only certain people are eligible to receive, regardless of the love and care a person may give to a child. Specifically, legal parents are the only adults authorized to make decisions on behalf of the child, particularly those related to education and medical treatment. In addition, only a legal parent is permitted to request access to the child and parenting time in the event of divorce or separation. With all of the non-traditional family structures that make up society today, this status is not the given it was in the past.
Who Is a Legal Parent?
The law is fairly clear on who, when, and how a person is recognized as a legal parent, and practically speaking, fathers are the most affected by these laws. The reason for that dichotomy is that mothers automatically become a child’s legal parent upon giving birth to a child (aside from surrogacy situations), but fathers are not always so easily tied to the birth of a child. However, the law does recognize four situations in which a person is considered a legal parent:...
Separated or divorced parents have a lot on their plates in terms of providing the emotional and financial support a child needs to thrive. While a physical and emotional connection with parents is integral to a child’s development, a court cannot force a parent to have a genuine and meaningful relationship with his or her child. A judge can, however, compel a parent to pay child support, regardless of the quality of the parent/child relationship.
Child support is a right owed to the child, and a parent cannot shirk this responsibility as long as the law recognizes the person as the child’s legal parent. Further, the type of relationship the child’s parents have with one another, whether it be as husband and wife, live-in girlfriend/boyfriend, or former partners who were never married, has no bearing on the legal parent’s ongoing obligation to provide support until the child reaches the age of 18.
A common question connected with child support orders is how they are established, or more specifically, who may initiate an action for child support, and what is the process followed for establishing a legally enforceable obligation?...