What makes a father a father?
Being married to the mother at the time the child is born is enough to confer presumptive paternity on a potential father — one that he has to dispute in court if he disagrees.
When parents are unmarried, only the mother has any legal relationship to the child at his or her birth. The father can establish paternity by signing a voluntary Declaration of Paternity — assuming the mother agrees. Once signed and properly filed, the father has all of the duties of fatherhood (including support) and the all of the rights of fatherhood (including the ability to get visitation and custody).
Paternity can also be established through a court order. That’s the route that actor Jason Patric was obliged to take in order to establish paternity of his young son. The child’s mother is Patric’s former girlfriend and there was never actually any doubt that he was the child’s biological father — just whether or not he qualified legally as one.
The child was conceived through in vitro fertilization using Patric’s donated sperm. At the time, his romantic relationship with the mother had cooled, but the couple decided to use his sperm anyhow.
The couple reunited near their son’s first birthday and Patric developed a relationship with the child — with the mother’s full consent and encouragement. When her romantic relationship with Patric soured again, she cut off all contact between father and son.
He sued to obtain paternity rights and was originally denied by the family court judge based on language regarding sperm donors. The appeals court reversed the ruling, saying that paternity could be established through the combination of the biological relationship and his actual emotional bond with the child. He was ordered to pay retroactive support and given shared visitation.
This prompted another appeal by the mother, who claimed the appeals court erred, and Patric should also be denied visitation or custody because he had been abusive toward her. The appeals court once again ruled he has paternal rights to the child — although it sent the issue of custody back to the lower court for a decision due to the abuse allegations.
Cases like this illustrate how complex the modern world of father’s rights, parentage and custody can be. If you’re struggling to determine your legal role in a child’s life, an attorney can help by providing you with more information on your legal options.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Jason Patric Is Legal Parent of IVF-Conceived Child, Appeals Court Rules,” Ashley Cullins, March 16, 2017