The Verified Declaration of Paternity: Getting a Bio Dad Legal Rights from Birth

Baby Daddies

Baby Daddies are NOT disposable.

Because I have either (a) been living under a rock, or (b) have only interacted with unmarried parents when they were fighting, I was not aware of an option biological fathers have to gain legal rights to their children:  They can sign a voluntary declaration of paternity.  If you and your significant other are on good terms when having a baby together, but NOT married, this is a way for the bio dad to be legally recognized as the child’s father right from birth.  What this means is that bio dad has the same rights and responsibilities in relation to his child as bio mom does, as opposed to having ZERO rights in relation to his child.  The parents’ status is as though they were married when the child was born.

What this does NOT mean: A voluntary declaration of paternity does NOT put in place custody and parent time for the parents, any more than being married gives one parent or another automatic custody and parent time orders.  If you and your significant other break up, and you want to have something enforceable to address who gets to see or have custody of your child and when, you WILL need to go through a court action, just like if you’d been married and get divorced.  These are called Custody and Paternity actions (even though paternity is already established).

Dad&Diaper

Dad’s aren’t just for Disneyland, ya know…

An example of the benefits (or hazards, depending on which side you’re on) of having a voluntary declaration of paternity in place:

I recently became aware of a woman who had had a child with a former boyfriend.  They had never been married, and dad hadn’t even been around for most of the kid’s life.  Dad hadn’t paid child support ever, had moved out of state, and went long periods of time without any contact with the child at all.  BUT, when the child was born, mom and dad were still in love, and they signed a voluntary declaration of paternity at the hospital, along with all the other forms they have you sign when you have a baby in a hospital.  It was done in conjunction with the form that you fill out to get a birth certificate issued.

Dad and Mom hadn’t been together in years.  Mom was living with a new boyfriend; Dad was living with a new girlfriend.  An incident occurred in Mom’s life that caused DCFS to get involved with the child.  The State was NOT going to take the child out of Mom’s custody over this, however.  But Dad got wind of it, showed up at the child’s school one day shortly thereafter, picked up the kid, and left the state with him.  He could legally do that because of that voluntary declaration of paternity.  He has just as much right to his child as Mom does; and because there was no court order spelling out custody and parent time at that time, there was absolutely nothing Mom could do about it.

I don’t tell you this story so you can go out, sign a voluntary declaration, and then break up with Mom and steal the baby.  That’s a bullshit move if ever there was one.  But as a biological father, this truly is the best way to gain legal standing in your child’s life from the beginning…and the legal part is actually FREE if you do it at the hospital following the child’s birth.

The one hitch in this:  Both the biological father AND birth mother MUST sign the paternity declaration.  This is not something bio dad can do if mom is not on board with it.  But the point is this:  Getting paternity declared or otherwise legally determined is a big deal when it comes to having the right to be involved in your child’s life, or to even have custody of your child if something happens that keeps mom from being able to care for the child (like dying, becoming incapacitated, going to jail, etc.)  For an example of HOW important it is, just check out my post about Jose Vargas and his fight for custody of his daughter against the State of Utah (DCFS).

Now that you’re convinced that you need to get paternity legally acknowledged, here’s more information about how to actually get it done:

This is a link to a brochure produced by the State of Utah with steps to take and contact information for the agencies you need to work with to make a voluntary declaration of paternity, as well as what it costs if you don’t get it done at the hospital immediately after the child’s birth.

The Utah Courts website also has information about the various ways to get paternity legally acknowledged for the purpose of Dad having rights to his kid, even without a voluntary declaration…you can find that here (and you don’t have Mom on board to do all of them).

And the statute in Utah, the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity Act, can be found here.

Dad reading to kids

Kids need their dads involved in their lives.  Let’s not cut them out, mmmkay?

The reality is that bio dads do not automatically have rights to their kids unless they’re married to bio mom (and she can give away your kid, too, without even telling you about it, if you’re not fast enough off the line…check out this poor guy’s situation).  The state can put you on the hook for child support and you still wouldn’t have any right to see your babies.  If you really want to be involved with your son or daughter, you’ve got to get the legal stuff taken care of.  This is the most serious case of “you snooze, you lose.”  Do it for yourself, but more importantly–do it for your kid.

 

 

Things I Care About: Do Unto Others

Golden Rule Plus

If you’ve read very many of my blog posts, you kind of start to get a feeling for things that I’m passionate about. Like

Fathers’ Rights.  I deeply believe that the best way to keep our kids whole through the divorce process is for them to have BOTH parents in their lives.  In this world of family law, where custody seems to default to moms, we should not forget that there are a lot of really great dads out there who are heartbroken at losing time to just Be around their kids on a daily basis.  While that may not be practical in a divorce,  that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to keep Dad there as often as possible.  And intentionally keeping a loving father from his kids IS child abuse.  We need the courts to take it more seriously, and we need a general shift in societal thinking that defaults away from thinking that single moms are always saints.

and

Domestic Abuse.  By this I mean ALL forms of abuse.  We tend to think only in terms of physical violence as being abusive, but psychological abuse may be far more pervasive, and can take a helluva lot longer to get over.  Victims of abuse tend to be less likely to have custody of their kids, because they tend also to have less access to resources with which to hire a lawyer in a divorce.  Moms who don’t have their kids could well have been victims of domestic abuse in their marriages, and every day of their lives without their kids is just another stab in the heart by the abuser.  We as a community (especially a community like I live in here in Utah) need to lay off judging moms who did not get custody as though they’re some sort of addict or loser.  Heaping misery on the wounded is cruel; we are better than that.

and

Kids.  It seems like in any divorce action, kids always end up being the Big Losers.  They don’t get any choice in their whole worlds getting thrown into chaos; in Utah, they have no choice, really, who they get to live with.  And even if they DID have the option, how do you choose between two parents you love dearly?  I remember being a freshman in college and having a nightmare that my parents were divorcing, and that I was begging them not to, and they wouldn’t listen.  I woke up sobbing, and had to call my mom to make sure that it was just a really bad dream.  The biggest pain in my life is knowing the MY kids never got to wake up from that Really Bad Dream.  I’ve been divorced nearly 12 years, and I still feel horrible every time I think about it (like now, writing this post, and blowing my nose and wiping my eyes.)

and

Fairness.  and Decency.  and Human Kindness. and Equity.  I mean, seriously….whatever happened to these values?  I see them evidenced in some divorce cases, but way more often it’s as though the parties feel a need to feed the fight, and take whatever they possibly can, and hurt the other person, no matter what the cost.  I know I’m way too sensitive (part of why I can’t do this family law thing full time anymore), but I don’t think it’s asking too much for people to apply a little Golden Rule into their lives, even if their lives include ex spouses.  Do unto others as you would have them do to you, ya’ll.  Or better yet, don’t do things to them that you wouldn’t want them to do to you.Even Better

And if we would all live by just that one little rule, what a wonderful world it would be.

More Myths from Divorceland: The DisneyLand Dad

We’ve all heard the term–Disneyland Dad.  This is the father who doesn’t have to be involved with the kids on a day to day basis, who “gets” to just be the one who the kids have fun with, the one with “no responsibility,” because he doesn’t have to do blah, blah blah Hard Stuff…  Generally we hear about Disneyland Dads from custodial moms who are more than a little bitter.  But there are some problems with this categorization, which land it into Myth status.

Problem #1:  The assumption here is that it’s dad’s CHOICE to only spend time with the kids every other weekend, a few hours on a weekday (if that), and some time during the summer and at holidays.  Mom makes it sound like Dad is skipping out on the day to day parenting, the homework, the colds, the trips to the doctor, all of that Parent Stuff.  And why would that be?

It’s that way because Dad is the non-custodial parent.  That’s all he’s been allowed to be by a court order…And a lot of the time that court order put him in that position because that’s what Mom insisted on, sometimes just so she can be in control and force Dad to pay child support.  And why wouldn’t Dad want to take what little time he has to be with his kids and have fun with them?  That only makes sense.  I’m not saying it’s always this way, but it definitely IS this way some of the time.

Problem #2:  If Mom is really interested in Dad carrying more of the substantive responsibility, guess what?  She can involve him more.  If the parents live in close proximity to each other, there’s no reason Mom can’t do this. She can actually co-parent with Dad, as opposed to cutting him out of any part of the kids’ lives that she isn’t court ordered to allow.  I mean, if both mom and dad work, why SHOULDN’T dad take a day off work to stay home with a sick kid, or take them to the doctor every now and again?  Why should mom be the one to always take on that responsibility?  It doesn’t have to be that way.  And if it is, it’s more than likely because she is insisting on it, because “kids need their Moms,” and she needs a little more fuel to justify her assertion that her ex is a Disneyland Dad.

Problem #3:  Sometimes Dad’s are too far away to even get that every other weekend, and being there for doctor visits, etc., is a practical impossibility.  Why do you suppose that is? Sometimes it’s because Mom decided to relocate.  There are legitimate reasons for her to relocate, for sure, but if you’ve got a Mom who’s all about moaning about her “absentee” father of an ex, or goes on and on about how he’s just a Disneyland Dad, or a deadbeat who doesn’t have to do the “hard stuff in parenting,” chances are she lives far away from Dad specifically to keep the kids away from him.  Again, when he DOES have a chance to be with his kids, it only makes sense that he’d want to do fun things with them, and make those memories that Mom has prevented him from making on a day to day basis.

So next time you hear some Poor Single Mommy whining about her ex being a Disneyland Dad, who never has to do the Hard Parenting, consider that it’s highly likely that what she really is is a Martyr Mommy–and is doing her damndest to make her ex looks like a jerk not only to the rest of the world, but to her kids.  Which constitutes child abuse.

Maybe consider that before making a judgment about that Dad you know nothing about.

**Side note:  I was gonna post some quippy memes on here, but DAMN, PEOPLE!  There is some super cruel stuff out there!  Depressed me just looking for a pic.  Maybe if we could all just grow the hell up and act like decent parents blog posts like this wouldn’t be necessary!

Fathers’ Rights….Why is this even a thing?

Unless you’ve been blessed with the perfect, family-law-free life, you’ve heard about the fathers’ rights movement.  And I have to say–Why is this even a thing??  In this age where we are so concerned with equality under the law, when fathers are being told they need to step up, when it’s been scientifically proven that children with an active father in their lives fare better emotionally and socially, WHY are fathers still having to effectively beg to have an equal part in their children’s lives?  Or in some cases, ANY part in their children’s lives?

In 2014, UCA 30-3-10 was enacted with language specifically stating that the court “shall consider the best interests of the child without preference for either the mother or father solely because of the biological sex of the parent…” (emphasis added.)  How that will be used in the courts remains to be seen.  I have not as of yet seen any caselaw from the Utah appellate court (the appeals system) that mentions the issue of bias based on whether one is the mother or father.

The legislature also enacted statute in 2014 that states what the policy behind any child custody order should be.  This is embodied within U.C.A. 30-3-32, and states in part that,  absent a showing of actual harm to a child, “it is in the best interests of the child of divorcing, divorced, or adjudicated parents to have frequent, meaningful, and continuing access to each parent following separation or divorce; each divorcing, separating, or adjudicated parent is entitled to and responsible for frequent, meaningful, and continuing access with his child consistent with the child’s best interests; and it is in the best interests of the child to have both parents actively involved in parenting the child.” (emphasis added.)

Generally the standard used in determining what type of physical custody arrangement will be in place in any proceeding involving children is Best Interest–as in, what will be in the best interest of the child.  In Utah, best interest has been defined by statute, located at U.C.A. 30-3-34.  These are the factors that the court is to focus on, at the very least, in making a custody determination.

Until fathers are being given at least the same deference as mothers, we have a problem. They are SUPPOSED to be, per our law that was proposed and adopted by our elected representatives.  It is our JOB as citizens to actively engage in making sure changes that have been put in place by the legislature are actively followed by our courts.  Because to quote the Lorax,

lorax

 

For other references and support, check out the Father’s Rights Movement.  

 

Utah’s Continuing War on the Bio Dad

Just in case ya’ll thought that things are getting better for unmarried biological fathers in Utah, think again.  I was recently made aware of an ongoing case in Utah that will be heard by the appellate court NEXT FRIDAY, January 20th, that shows that the state’s vendetta against bio dads is alive and well.  The dad, Jose Vargas, is just trying to raise his daughter.  That’s it.  But the state is bound and determine to prevent that, and to give the child over for adoption.  Why???  Seriously, Utah–What The Fu**???

Jose has a GoFundMe page to try and raise the money he needs to pay his lawyer–who continues to represent Jose even though he’s not getting paid right now, I might add.  Links to articles about the case are below.  And help out with the legal fees as well, if you’re at all able.

This has got to stop.  And it can stop with THIS dad, God willing.

jose

Jose Vargas holds his daughter, Major.  Photo was published in the Deseret News, and provided by Mr. Vargas.

http://www.elle.com/life-love/a40251/father-daughter-custody-utah/

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865670699/I-have-to-try-Father-suing-to-raise-daughter-caught-in-complicated-legal-tangle.html

https://nationalparentsorganization.org/recent-articles?id=23238

 

***UPDATE:  In this case, the juvenile court had adjudicated parentage in Mr. Vargas’ behalf (means:  the juvenile court held that Jose is the child’s legal father, which would give him rights).  The State opposed that order, and appealed it (trying to say the juvenile court wasn’t allowed to make that call.)  The case was argued on January 20, 2017, before Utah’s Court of Appeals.  The court found in favor of the Juvenile Court/Mr. Vargas.  The formal opinion was filed on March 30, 2017.  Unless the State appeals to the Utah Supreme Court (and the Supremes don’t actually have to agree to listen to their case), this case is over, and is a big WIN for Mr. Vargas and bio dads.  So many thanks to his attorney, Caleb Proulx, who went the distance with him!

From the FB Archives: April 16, 2013

Is it really about what we do with it?

Life is not perfect; I think we all know that.  I’ve had a rough couple of days.  I was up working until 11:00 last night (Yeah! E-filing! Damn YOU!!!! E-filing!!!)  I woke up with the knowledge that I had another full day, but at least my first “You must wear clothes and look presentable” appointment wasn’t until 11 a.m.  Before that, I got an email from a client thanking me profusely for the teeny tiny itty bitty thing I had done for him, and a phone call from an older lady who has called me no less than a dozen times in the past 3 months, thanking me for helping her.  I did precious little for her; I just answered the phone when she called.

This afternoon I had two new client consultations.  Not difficult stuff.  One may become a new client; one can probably handle things on her own.  The first one was distraught….Have ya’ll noticed I’m a big fat cry baby?  I try really hard not to cry with my clients, but damn it!  I suck at that…

I had other work that I did, work that pays, work that will hopefully protect my client from BigLaw’s nasty allegations come next Monday when I have to be in SLC at 9:00a.m. for a hearing.  I hope I did enough.  I hate responding to BigLaw’s filings.  They really suck.  But then there is this Woman, my client, with a child.  And I am again emotionally sucked into it without even wanting to be.

I have gotten better.  I don’t cry with all of them anymore.  I can pat their shoulders, squeeze a hand, and give them reassurance, while telling them what to expect.  I can walk away, relieved that they can’t afford a lawyer because I just KNOW they would turn into Super Needy client who runs out of money and becomes the most demanding at that point.

I had some personal distress this week as well.  And this morning, as I was sunk in the Lows of that, I had the Highs of my client and this old lady telling me that I am definitely OK.

It’s a weird place to live, my head….My therapist thinks I’m great.  He doesn’t have to deal with my neurosis….

carrying-too-much

Like the poor jackass pictured above, it’s possible I was carrying a little too much…

From the FB Archives: March 20, 2013

Law school was tough.  Like, if you just had to do law school, without adding to it trying to still pay my bills and see my kids and deal with the weather in Wyoming when driving, it would still suck.  So I hunted for inspiration.  This was something I found inspiring…

It’s not just about being a Man

I was hunting on my computer today for my address labels document/template (what exactly DID I name that thing anyway???) when I came across this poem by Rudyard Kipling that I’d found years ago and loved.

 

If

by Rudyard Kipling; 1865-1936

If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too:

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thought your aim,

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same:

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings:

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much:

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son!

 

Kipling wrote this with respect to becoming a Man, but I would propose that one does not need testicles to Become the thing one would If he/she could do all of the things noted above.  This is about being a solid human being.  Hoping that I can become Kipling’s ideal “Man” someday.

file_000

My dad, his sister, and his brother…These are those who have become Kipling’s ideal “Man”.  May I be as much in my life.

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