What All Moms and Dads Must and Can Do
This part of the guide explains the legal rights and duties for both parents, including
• what all parents must do, and
• what all parents can do if they want.
Parents’ duties—what all parents must do
Do both parents have to care for their child?
Yes. Parents have certain legal duties. They must care for their child physically, emotionally, and financially.
If you are the mom, your legal duties start when the baby is born. For the dad, these duties start when the law sees him as the legal father.
Even if a parent does not want to be involved, s/he is still responsible for financially supporting the child.
What kind of support can I expect from the other parent?
Some parents can provide
- financial support,
- health insurance for the child, and/or
- part of their Social Security, workers’ compensation, life insurance, or other benefits.
The kind and amount of support you can get depends on many things, including income, job benefits, and assets.
If the child lives with me—not the other parent—does the other parent still have to support the child?
Yes. Both parents must support the child financially no matter where the child lives.
What if the other parent does not want to help support the child?
You can ask the court to make orders for your child, including
- child support,
- custody, and
For more information, see The Father.
Parents’ rights—what all parents can do
What rights do parents have?
Once the law recognizes parents, they have the right to
- be with and care for their child, and
- make decisions about their child’s life, such as education, health care, religion, and where to live.
What if the other parent and I do not agree about important decisions in our child’s life?
Parents who do not agree on important decisions in the child’s life can talk to a counselor who may help you make an agreement. Some community or religious organizations offer free or low-cost counseling. If that doesn’t work, you can ask the court to decide. For more information, see Custody, Visitation, and Travel.
Can someone be a legal parent even if s/he is not the biological parent?
Usually only biological or adoptive parents have rights and responsibilities to their children. But sometimes courts recognize other people as “presumed” or “psychological” parents.
You or your spouse/partner (of either gender) may have parental rights and duties if
- you have raised or helped raise a child in your home, and
- you have publicly told people you are the child’s parent.
This can happen if the mom was not married to the dad, and the dad has not participated in the child’s life.
Does my child have the right to inherit from the legal father?
Yes. When the legal father dies, his children have the right to inherit his money or property.