What Is the Difference Between Paternal Rights and Parental Rights?

Hossein Berenji, May 26, 2023

Parental rights and paternal rights are not interchangeable. The two terms are related, but understanding the differences between them is critical. Parental rights belong to the legally-recognized parents of a child, while paternal rights belong to the legally-recognized father alone. 

Paternity Must Be Established Before Rights Are Recognized

Before any person tries to exercise paternal or parental rights over a minor child, paternity must be established. Sometimes, paternity is not in dispute. If you were married to the child’s mother at the time of the conception and birth, and you signed the birth certificate, there may not be any real dispute regarding your paternity.

In other cases, paternity can be fiercely contested. If you and the mother were not married at the time of the child’s conception or birth, or if you did not sign the birth certificate, a court may need to decide whether there is sufficient evidence suggesting you are the child’s father. 

A court may order genetic testing to determine whether you are the child’s biological parent.

But paternity is more than deciding that you may be the biological father of your child. In fact, you can be adjudged to be the legal father of your child even if you are not the likely biological father of the child. 

At its core, paternity is a declaration from a court or other authority that you possess both the rights and responsibilities of parenthood toward a particular child. Without recognition of paternity, you neither have the duty to support the child nor the ability to exercise any parental rights over the child.

Both Parents Have Parental Rights over Their Child

You have parental rights over your child so long as you have been determined to be the child’s father. The parental rights you and the child’s mother exercise are identical and are coupled with the responsibilities of parenthood. Chief among these is the responsibility to provide for your child’s needs and to protect their health and well-being.

The rights that you have as a parent allow you to determine how your child will be raised. 

More specifically, parental rights include the right to:

  • Decide what medical care your child should receive
  • Choose what school your child should attend and make other educational choices
  • Decide whether to enroll your child in extracurricular activities
  • Decide the religion or faith tradition in which to raise your child
  • Determine where the child will live

In most situations, you and the child’s mother exercise these rights jointly, meaning you each have an equally valuable say in the decision-making process. The two of you resolve any disputes or disagreements informally, and if you cannot, the matter is submitted to the court.

The rights and responsibilities of parenthood exist independently of one another. You retain your parental rights in most situations, even if you are not fulfilling your parental responsibilities. However, when your parental rights are permanently terminated, your parental responsibilities are extinguished, too.

Paternity and Parental Rights Are Powerful Concepts in the Law

While paternity and parental rights sound similar, there are differences between the two. However, both paternity and parental rights are heavily protected by the law. Once you have been determined to be the father of a child, that determination is not easily vacated. 

Similarly, once you are recognized as having parental rights over a child, a court will not interrupt or terminate those rights without a compelling reason. 

Contact a Beverly Hills Family Law Lawyer Today

If you’re going through a divorce, you need a strong team on your side fighting for your rights. Call Berenji & Associates today to know how we can assist you.

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