In the U.S., some 41% of children are born to single mothers. Our custody laws assume all children to have been born to a married couple. That means stark inequalities between unmarried mothers and fathers. In every state, mothers have parental rights solely by virtue of their biological connection to their children. Fathers have a biological connection too, but must spend significant sums of money and jump through various legal hoops in order to establish their rights.
Combine all that with the fact that, although we have, for the first time in human history, the ability to know to a certainty the father of every child, no state performs genetic testing on every child when it’s born. Some 30 different tests are performed on newborns, but not the one that would benefit dads.
And of course no law anywhere on the planet requires any mother to inform the father that she’s given birth to his child.
The upshot is that state laws perpetuate pro-mother and anti-father bias.
Now a bill before the Arkansas Legislature seeks to take a baby step toward rectifying some of that (KATV, 2/19/19).
"If there's a father that wants to be involved in their child's life - this bill seeks to put those fathers on an equal footing and have a fair playing field," said Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R-Paragould).
Gazaway filed HB1486 last week, which aims to amend the law concerning the custody of children born out of wedlock. In cases where paternity has been established, fathers and mothers would be subject to the same custody laws that divorced parents are already subject to.
"It's 2019 and it's time we have laws that reflect equal rights for both mothers and fathers," said Gazaway.HB 1486 would do two things. First, it requires that custody laws that govern married couples also govern unmarried ones, assuming paternity has been established. The linked to article underlines why that’s so important.
Mary Anne Parsley, a grandmother from Conway, said she believes her son's fight to gain sole custody of his daughter would have ended years ago if state law didn't favor the mother.
Custody wasn't an issue to start with Parsley's son - in essence he was already his daughter's primary caregiver as the child's mother battled addiction problems. But Parsley's son wanted to make sole custody of his daughter official and petitioned the court to do so.
"That's when after a couple of court hearings they were referred to a mediator and the mediation resulted in this temporary custody," said Parsley.
Parsley's son has had temporary custody of his daughter going on almost five years now.
"The temporary custody being changed was contingent on the child's mother meeting some requirements," said Parsley. "Those requirements have not been met. So he still has custody of her, but it's still temporary."It’s crystal clear that, despite Parsley’s son having been the child’s sole caregiver for essentially all its life, he’s still a second-class parent in the eyes of the court and the law. Given that changing custody only awaits Mom’s addressing her addiction problems, we can conclude that, once she does, custody will be hers. HB 1486 would change that.
(c) If a court finds by a preponderance of the evidence that a parent has demonstrated a pattern of willfully concealing or withholding a child from the other parent, the court:
(1) Shall not find that the other parent has failed to establish a parental relationship with the child; and
(2) May find that there has been a material change of circumstances.So when a mother refuses to inform the father that he has a child, a court may not use the fact against him. That is, his right to custody and parenting time will not be diminished by her having kept the child from him.
Plus, her having done so may result in a judicial finding of changed circumstances, permitting a change of custody to him.
All in all, it’s a pretty good law. It won’t dare disturb the universe, but it’ll make life a lot better for unmarried fathers and their children in the State of Arkansas. And no move to make parental rights more equal is a bad thing.