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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.

 

 

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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!

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