Mothers’ Rights Facts and Tips
The Fit Mother
The rights of the biological mother are usually upheld in court. For most of the twentieth century, biological mothers were automatically awarded custody based on the fact that children should be with them. This is changing somewhat, but for the most part it still holds true. A biological mother has the right to have custody of her child. It does not matter if she has been married or not.
"Tender Years Doctrine"
In decades past, mothers were often given a preference in awarding custody because courts relied on what was called the "tender years doctrine." This doctrine and what was called the “maternal preference” presupposed that the relationship between the mother and the child was more crucial to a child's development than the relationship with the father. Since the 1970s, courts have become gender-neutral about child custody but in cases of contested custody mothers generally receive physical custody of the children.
During an adoption process and before she relinquishes her parental rights, the rights of the natural mother prevail. Until relinquishment papers have been signed and any waiting period has passed, parental rights of the natural mother remain intact. In some cases, a child will be placed in the home of the adopting parents before a termination of parental rights for the birthmother has occurred. During this time, the birthmother is still the child's legal parent and retains parental rights.
Change of Heart During Adoption
In adoption cases, if the biological mother changes her mind even after she has surrendered the child, there is a good chance that the child will be returned to her, unless she is deemed to be unfit. Unfit means it is proven that the mother has a history of substance abuse, homelessness, reckless behavior, or mental instability.
The Mother May Not be Married
A biological mother does not have to be married in order to exercise her rights as a parent.
Parents' Rights Enforcement
Every single state recognizes the Child Support Enforcement Program, which ensures the self-sufficiency and well being of single-parent children. The Child Support Enforcement Program is, in fact, run as a partnership between local authorities, the state and federal resources. Child support collected by the CSEP is passed on to the single-parent family concerned. Deadbeat parents are traced and they are made to pay support for their child or children. To date, the Department of Revenue has 17 million families on their case files – for which they collect $18 billion in child support.
Parental visitation is a right that belongs to the child, and a single parent who does not have primary custody can seek visitation. No parent has the right to deny unilaterally the child's right of visitation with the other parent. If a single mother has primary custody but she feels that paternal visitation should not occur because of abuse on the father's part, she has the right to petition the court to ask that paternal visitation be denied so long as she can provide evidence of abuse.
Most states grant mothers the right to ask for paternity testing on the child's behalf. The courts compel the presumed father to submit to DNA tests to establish paternity. Once paternity is established, the father has rights, but he also has responsibilities. The fair amount of child support that the noncustodial parent pays is determined according to state guidelines. The Child Support Enforcement office enforces the collection of child support no matter where the noncustodial parent lives.
Mothers have the right to ask the courts to terminate the custody rights of the father. In such cases, if the father is found to abandon the child for a prolonged period of time, the custody rights of the father are transferred to another person selected by the mother. Mothers can even ask the courts to nullify the visitation and custody rights of the father, if they feel that their children are experiencing physical abuse and domestic violence. In situations where the physical and mental stability of the father affects the emotional and psychological development of the child, mothers can file a petition before the court asking for transfer of custody.
Useful Online Tools
Resources & Tools
ADOPTION CHANGE OF HEART -- In adoption cases, if the biological mother changes her mind even after she has surrendered the child, there is a good chance that the child will be returned to her, unless she is deemed to be unfit. Unfit means it has been proven the mother has a history of substance abuse, homelessness, reckless behavior, or mental instability.
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"A Plain English Guide to Protecting Your Children"
Author: Mary L. Boland, Attorney at Law
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