Category: Family Law

Adoption and Parental Rights

What are a birth mother’s rights and obligations regarding adoption?

Adoption can be a wonderful opportunity for an adopting family and for the child who needs a new home.  But it can also be a frightening and traumatic process for the birth mother who has decided to put her child up for adoption.  Understanding both your obligations and your rights as a birth mother during the adoption process can make a difference.

Starting the process

A birth mother has the ability to start the adoption process at any time after conception.  She also has the right to choose the parent(s) who will adopt her child.  This choice, too, can be made at any time after conception.  She can also choose to sign the necessary consent forms, either before or after birth.  If the consent forms are signed before birth, she should do so before a probate judge.  After the birth of the child, the consent forms can be executed before a notary.

After the birth of the child

Contrary to what some people believe, a birth mother who has decided to give her child up for adoption is allowed to hold the baby after the birth if she desires to.  Usually a questionnaire is given to the mother so that she can indicate what she wants to happen, including the extent of the connection she wants to have with the child in the hospital. In Alabama, the adoptive parents are allowed to pay for medical, legal and living expenses of the mother, if those expenses are reasonable. The birth mother can only change her mind if she has not yet signed the consent forms.

What about birth mothers who are minors?

Alabama does not require the parents of either the biological mother or father to give consent to the adoption, regardless of the age of the biological parents. However, an attorney will be appointed to explain the consent form and discuss the minor child’s decision before they will be allowed to sign the consent.

If you any questions or concerns regarding the adoption process in Alabama, contact our firm at (205) 988-5570 for a free case analysis and consultation.

Unmarried Child Custody Issues

Is Determining Child Custody More Difficult When the Parents are not Married?

While it is true that working through child custody issues when the parents are unmarried presents some unique issues, the process does not necessarily need to be more difficult. In this situation, the most common scenario is a father fighting for contact and visitation rights and a mother struggling to obtain child support from the father.  An experienced family law attorney will have the skill and knowledge to assist either parent through this process.

Who gets custody of the child if the parents never married? In many states, the unmarried mother is usually awarded sole physical custody unless the unmarried father files a petition in court seeking to be awarded custody.  Alabama prefers to award custody to both parents, encouraging them to share the responsibilities of raising their child.  Either way, a court will ultimately make the decision.

Child custody concerns for the unmarried father

In some unfortunate cases, a mother will refuse to allow the father access to the child. In those cases, the father will need to go to court in order to be allowed visitation rights.  This process includes first establishing paternity.

If a father seeks full custody, it is often an uphill battle.  Rarely is a father awarded custody over the mother unless the mother is determined to be unfit, or if there are health and safety issues with the children.  The most likely outcome is a form of joint custody, when feasible, or visitation.  Like most other areas of family law, the parents can always come to an agreement outside of the court process.  When that is not possible, only the court can resolve these issues.  Although it takes time and money to go through the court process, fathers should not be discouraged. Many courts, like Alabama, are of the opinion that joint custody is in the best interest of the child.  That is the applicable standard.

Child custody concerns for the unmarried mother

The mother’s biggest concern, unless there are issues regarding her fitness to have custody of the child, is fighting for financial support.  A finding of paternity is always required before a father will be forced to pay child support. Without this finding, the court is unable to issue an order requiring a father to pay.

Of course, child support payments can be made voluntarily.  But without a finding of paternity, the mother cannot force the father to continue payments if he decides at some point to stop making them.  In other words, if a mother is relying on voluntary payments by the father without a finding of paternity, she will find herself in a difficult situation if the father decides to stop paying voluntarily.

If you or someone you know has questions or needs assistance with child custody and/or visitation, please contact our firm either online, or by calling (205) 533-7476.

Establishing Paternity in Alabama

If you are wondering why it is important to establish paternity, the answer is simple: establishing paternity provides a child born outside of marriage the same legal rights as one born to parents who are married.  This includes entitlement to benefits through their fathers such as Social Security, veteran’s benefits and rights to inheritance from the father.  Some people also believe it is important to know about their biological family’s culture and medical history.

Who starts the process?

Either parent has the right to initiate proceedings to legally establish paternity.  This legal process can be started at any time until the child attains the age of majority, which in Alabama is nineteen.  In some cases, a mother may need proof of paternity in order to collect child support from the father.  On the other hand, a man may seek a paternity test in order to determine whether he should be legally required to pay support.  Either way, the State of Alabama basically employs three different types of paternity proceedings

Contested, Uncontested or Administrative Proceedings

In most cases, the issue of paternity is either contested or uncontested.  Even when paternity is not disputed, there may be reasons why the parents need a legal determination to be made.  The most common reason is that the parents are not married when the child is born, but both agree on who the biological father is.  The uncontesteded consent process can be accomplished easily by completing an Affidavit of Paternity.  This can be done in the hospital when the child is first born, or at a later time.

In some situations, paternity is contested, but the parties will agree to allow the Department of Human Resources (DHR) to order genetic testing through a purely administrative process.  This way, the court does not have to order genetic testing, but it must still issue the order establishing paternity and child support.

If, however, the mother and alleged father do not agree on paternity (i.e., the man denies paternity), then the decision must be made by the court through a contested judicial process.  If the alleged father refuses to acknowledge paternity or either party will not cooperate with administrative genetic testing, then the only other option is to go to court.

What about paternity testing when the couple is married?

If parents are married when a child is born, usually paternity is not an issue. The law assumes that the husband is the father and the wife is the mother. However, if there is a question as to paternity, this assumption can be overturned. Call our office today if you have further questions on paternity testing in Alabama. (866) 345-2528.