Connecticut fathers' rights may be influenced by landmark SCOTUS verdict

Some Connecticut residents may assume that because women are the ones who give birth to children, they have a right to be the sole decision-maker in issues regarding their children's best interests. This is simply not the case, however; Connecticut law provides that fathers have rights too.

A "father" is defined in Connecticut to include a man who issues a binding acknowledgement of paternity or a man who is determined to be the biological parent of a child following a DNA test. In situations in which the child's parents are not married, a man who believes he is the biological father of a child has 60 days to file a claim for paternity in the local probate court; he may then seek a custody order.

A landmark case that is currently before the Supreme Court of the United States may exert an influence on fathers' rights across the country. In this case, which has garnered heavy media attention around the nation, the court has been asked to determine an Oklahoma father's right to custody following the child's adoption by a third party. The father had no contact with mother or child after the mother refused to marry him and announced her pregnancy. When the father, a member of the Cherokee Nation, learned that the girl was being adopted, however, he intervened. By the time his request for custody was granted, the girl was three years old and had lived with her adoptive parents in South Carolina for more than two years.

How the law affects the case

Since the man is Native American, the law favors the father in this situation over a third party and does not follow the common best interests consideration that is used when deciding custody between two family members or both parents. However, the Supreme Court has the ability to interpret the law in a way that may change our current understanding and have far-reaching ramifications for fathers everywhere who find themselves in a situation in which a mother seeks to adopt a father's child without consulting with him.

The Court has already heard arguments on the case, which was brought under the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Act, signed into law in 1978, gives Native American tribes and families the right to make decisions in cases involving children born to Native Americans. Connecticut is one of several states that submitted a brief in support of the father's position. The Supreme Court heard arguments from both sides April 16, and the case is presently awaiting a judgment.

This case illustrates how important it is for a father to exercise his rights soon after his child is born. Once the child has established a bond with another family, it can be difficult for the father to step in and assert himself as an important figure in the child's life. There is also the risk that adoptive parents will be allowed to keep the child over the father's wishes if the law is changed as a result of a judgment in favor of the adoptive family.

How a family law attorney can help

Any man who believes he may be the father of a child and who seeks custody or visitation rights may benefit from speaking with an experienced family law lawyer who may help establish paternity. Once paternity is determined, the lawyer may also able to assist with establishing a custody agreement and resolving child support issues.