When a child is neglected, abused, or declared dependent (meaning there is no one to take care of them), Child Protective Services (CPS) often becomes involved. CPS is a division of the North Carolina Department of Social Services. It’s their job to help protect the children of North Carolina and provide for their needs. If they discover a parent isn’t taking proper care of a child, they may file a juvenile petition under Chapter 7B if they believe the person’s actions rise to the level of abuse, neglect, or dependency.
When a juvenile petition is filed, the courts become involved. Eventually, there will be a hearing to decide if the child really is neglected, abused, or dependent. If CPS files a petition, it can affect the legal rights of both of the child’s parents. If you’re a father or are named as a possible father in a juvenile petition, you may be wondering what your rights are.
Because it’s possible to have several fathers involved in a single CPS court case, North Carolina has created three different categories of fathers. Depending on which category you fall into, your rights during the court case will be different. The three categories include legal fathers, presumptive fathers, and putative fathers.
Below is a closer look at the three categories and a discussion of available rights for each category in a Chapter 7B juvenile court case.
- Legal Father: A legal father is the father recognized by North Carolina law. The legal father will have full standing and rights in a CPS court case when a juvenile petition is filed. If you’re a legal father, among other rights, you’ll have the right to an attorney and you should be consulted regarding placement of the child. The court should also make arrangements for you to visit the child while the case is in court.
In North Carolina, if a child is born to a woman while she’s married, her husband is presumed to be the legal father. However, a putative father (described below) can establish himself as the legal father through a successful legitimation action. A legitimation action is different from a paternity action and has the power to name a man the legal father of a child. If successful, the child will enjoy all the rights and privileges of the legal relationship, including the right to inherit from the father if he dies without a will.
Click here to learn more about the differences between legitimation and paternity actions.
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- Presumptive Father: The juvenile court will classify you as the presumptive father if your name is listed on the child’s birth certificate. While inheritance rights are still at issue, the presumptive father does have rights in a Chapter 7B juvenile court proceeding. For example, he should be consulted regarding the possibility of placing the child with his relatives during the court proceedings.
- Putative Father: If the biological mother names a man who does not appear on the birth certificate as the possible father, the court will classify him as a putative father. Unfortunately, the putative father has no legal standing to address issues of custody. If he believes he is the biological father, he should take steps to establish paternity
Any of the following will establish paternity in a Chapter 7B juvenile case:
- The father’s name is on the birth certificate
- An affidavit of parentage, executed by the biological mother and putative father and sent to NC Vital Records
- A paternity action (does not establish inheritance rights for the child)
- A legitimation action (does establish inheritance rights for the child)
- A previously entered child custody order establishing paternity
- A child support order establishing paternity
If you’re a father involved with CPS and would like to know more about your rights, you should speak with one of our experienced attorneys who are board certified in child welfare law. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation.