Few things are as complicated in family court as a married woman giving birth to another man’s child. Most countries fall back on “presumption of legitimacy,” treating the husband as the legal father for the sake of the child. It’s a practice with practical benefits, and in many situations, either the husband or bio father can petition the courts for changes. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. In Florida, for instance, a woman and her husband can decide they don’t want the biological father involved.
Now the decision in a new case, Simmonds v. Perkins (No. SC17-1963), has made it easier for bio dads to have a fighting chance, but it won’t be as simple as showing up to court.
From the Stigma of Illegitimacy to Infidelity
Support for the marital presumption comes largely from a place of concern. Illegitimate children used to suffer the brunt of the consequences of their situation. Wives could often rejoin their households and regain their status, but children being raised in a home not their own were often shunned by friends and family. That’s changed in 2018, as nearly half of children are born to unwed mothers.
Now, it’s the sting of infidelity that leaves courts back peddling when single men petition courts for rights to the child of another man’s wife. Bio dads in these situations are often seen as unsavory by default, considered to be neither safe nor valuable features in a child’s life.
These ingrained attitudes toward infidelity ignore the reality of today’s social landscape, where divorce is so common and expensive that many couples separate for years. Women date new men and start new families without finalizing the end of earlier relationships. Their children form strong relationships with their bio dads only to be completely removed from their lives when the partnerships sour.
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Connor Perkins didn’t even know his girlfriend was married when they began dating in 2009. Three years and a daughter later, he was a happy and involved father blindsided when the mother of his child returned to her husband and took the girl with her.
What should have been a simple case of establishing a parenting schedule quickly became a nightmare when Perkins was told he had no legal rights to his child. It didn’t matter that his name was on her birth certificate or that he voluntarily paid support each month. It didn’t matter that friends and family called him the “ideal dad.” According to state law, his wife’s marital ties were stronger than the biological and emotional bond he shared with his child and the emotional bond his daughter shared with him..
In a decision that paves the way for invested biological fathers to gain legal rights, judges in Simmonds v. Perkins wrote that maintaining contact with a biological father who “manifested a substantial and continuing concern for the welfare of the child” IS in the child’s best interests.
While fathers are still fighting for common sense laws in other states, like California, Florida family lawyers are now able to help expectant fathers create ties to their children early on. The best strategy depends on a father’s situation, but acting quickly to establish paternity through DNA testing, offering financial support and making your desires to be involved in your child’s life be known might be enough to convince a court a father should have legal rights.