Fathers' rights refer to the legal protection a child's father has when it comes to the child. In order for a man to have fathers' rights, he generally must fulfill one of several conditions: he must be named on the birth certificate, he must have provided support to the child and/or he must pass a paternity test in which it is conclusively demonstrated that he shares DNA with the child. Once a man has proven that he is the father, he may be entitled to certain rights with regards to the child.
The specific nature of fathers' rights and custody laws differ on a state by state basis and from country to country. In certain countries in which women have fewer rights, such as Iran, the rights of a father are paramount over the rights of a mother, who essentially does not have any rights as compared to her husband. In the United States, on the other hand, mothers tend to be favored by family courts when it comes to custody decisions.
Although mothers may be favored, every state within the United States offers some type of protection for fathers who have a child. The specific requirements a father must fulfill to be entitled to fathers' rights may vary slightly, as well as the exact protections a father has. For example, a father may have to prove he is in fact the child's parent, especially if he is not listed on the birth certificate. Abandoning a child can also lead to the relinquishment of parental rights.
Provided a father has fulfilled his requirements of proving paternity and providing care, at a minimum he is usually permitted some access to the child under the law. This may come in the form of shared custody or joint custody, in which the father and mother split their time with the child and the child lives with both parents. Sometimes, a father is granted visitation only, in which he is allowed limited periods of time with the child but the mother retains primary custody. Fathers' rights also encompass a father's right to make certain decisions when it comes to his child, such as deciding what type of medical care his child may need in a given situation.
With rights come responsibilities. Fathers are generally obligated to provide child support for children they sire. This is true even if the fathers do not visit the child or have contact with the child. If paternity can be proven, the father will generally have child support assessed by the court on an involuntary basis if he chooses not to agree to pay.