The identification of a family as a unit comprising a wage-earning father, a caregiving mother and one or more children is an historical concept which, in recent times, has become outdated. Today, the father is equally likely to be the stay-at-home parent taking care of the children or not married to the mother of the child. Also, the dissolution of the traditional family unit now provides a definite case for distinguishing between the biological father and the father who provides emotional and financial support.
Equally, many cases can be found where the modern family seeks legal intervention for resolving domestic issues. Courts regularly deal with lawsuits relating to divorce and child custody, resulting in laws becoming highly nuanced and judges seeking to apply specific judgments rather than following general guidelines. One consequence of this is the issue of paternity and, relatedly, paternal rights.
On the one hand, a man embroiled in a custody issue may need to prove that he is indeed a biological parent and thus has a right to participate in the child’s upbringing. This can be especially necessary in cases where, by law, no marriage has taken place and consequently the mother has full rights to the child. Frequently, this leads to a legal contest over decisions made by the mother without the father’s consent.
Alternatively, it might be the woman trying to establish that a particular man is indeed the father of her child and is, therefore, responsible for paying for child support. As residents of Pulaski, Arkansas, may know, the state’s laws recognize a “putative” father as a person who is allegedly the parent but has not been legally so recognized. An unmarried man who wishes to be recognized as a father may do so by registering with Arkansas’ Putative Father Registry. Otherwise, a court may rule that the man is indeed the father and hold him responsible for child support.
In Arkansas, a unmarried man who has fathered a child can seek legal rights as the biological father , including joint custody and visitation. While courts might still have to deal with runaway fathers who take no responsibility, acknowledging that responsible fathers have rights to their children is seen as a welcome step.