Having to deal with child custody proceedings is the last thing a parent anticipates when they bring a child into the world. However, unfortunately, when a marriage fails or a separation is necessary, which parent ends up as the primary parent isn’t necessarily a matter of tradition, biology, or religion. Instead, it is determined through Montana’s legal process associated with re-assigning parental rights formally.
During the birth of a child, parents are defined by the birth certificate and recognized by the government via that documentation who the birth parents are. Alternatively, if a child is adopted, the parents are confirmed by the court in the adoption process. However, once either event occurs, the parents have, by default, assigned parental rights over the child involved. Those rights are not lost again until the court defines otherwise. During a divorce or separation process, the court does exactly that when it changes the child custody assignments of the parents involved.
How Child Custody Works
When it comes to protecting fathers’ rights, Montana judges have to rule by the “best interests of the child” standard in Montana in an attempt to give the child the best living condition so that it can prosper and thrive while also having good mental health. Unfortunately, in practice, the whole process of child custody determination can be traumatizing for a child. It is best that they have and will have a safe environment to live in.
Child custody for a father can take one of four forms:
- Sole, or
- Joint custody.
Each type has its own individual set of laws and rights in Montana. For example, during a determination of joint custody, the father and mother must agree on a shared schedule and other crucial events for the child, like medical appointments, education, and a possible religious life. The custody rights that previously existed together are broken up as equal on both sides unless determined otherwise by the court. The child’s well-being is always considered the highest priority when the court considers a case versus a specific parent’s wants or needs.
Sole custody in Montana is when one single parent has either both legal and physical custody over a child or only one. Both a mother or father can end up with sole custody, but traditionally the mother has ended up with sole custody more often than not if the resources are available or the divorce provides sufficient alimony and child support to address cost concerns.
This type of custody is a much rarer occurrence because it means if there are siblings involved, they will be split, and each parent will have rights and/or physical custody over one child. This can lead to a variety of issues for both the parents and the children due to long-term separation and the inability to constantly live together.
While many parents assume that having physical contact and control of a child is in itself custody, that’s not always the case. Physical custody is, technically, immediate physical control of the child, but it could be legal or illegal, depending on the parental rights status in place. Again, by default, parents, when a child is born, have physical custody already, and that continues forward until changed. Adopting parents are formally defined, so their physical control of a child is affirmed by the state in documented proceedings. However, both can be changed by the state.
Paternity: One of the Strongest Establishments of Biological Rights
Where parents are not already legally married in the state, child paternity for a father is critical to establish in Montana with a child involved. If the child is not his biologically, the father may not automatically have the same rights after separation from the mother. On the other hand, if a couple is married and has a child, that child’s biological father is assumed to be the wife’s husband unless declared otherwise by the court. There is less need for establishing a child’s paternity as a result.
The three ways that a father can make sure his paternity is established are:
- Publicly accepting the child as his own and signing an affidavit with the mother.
- The father also has a right that when he signs a paternity acknowledgment, and the mother and child are still in the hospital, and the father’s last name is entered on the birth certificate. The child is then legally identified as having the father’s last name. The father acknowledges the child’s paternity and accepts the child as a parent on the same form.
- Finally, a father can establish paternity by filing a court action to request that he is acknowledged by the Montana district court as a parent. This is not a guarantee.
Again, the Montana court will follow what will best aid the child as it grows up with the decision on custody and visitation rights for each parent. If sole custody is deemed best, the other parent may have to pay child support and be granted visitation rights or may still have financial obligations and no visitation at all.
Fathers also can have the same rights to visitation as the mother, but this can vary from case to case due to who is the one with existing legal custody or what has already been defined by the court. However, parenting or visitation time can also be refused by the child in some circumstances if the court deems the reasoning for refusal is justified. The range of how far a father’s rights can be asserted can also be shortened due to issues as controversial as confirmed drug addiction, home hygiene, or issues as mundane as availability in schedules for visitation hours. The child’s ability to recognize their situation will also be evaluated by the court.
In short, fathers’ rights in Montana with child custody are mixed, complicated, easily fouled up with missteps, and oftentimes frustrating. What one knows or thinks as a parent isn’t necessarily what the court agrees to, and each turn represents another challenge for a father to have to give their best argument to hold onto rights or gain new permissions. It can be tiring and exhausting. However, for parents and fathers who are dedicated regardless, their child is the most important still.