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Parental Rights

What You Need to Know About Establishing or Terminating Parental Rights in Mississippi 

One of your fundamental rights as an American citizen is to parent your child.  That's why it is relatively easy to establish paternity, and very difficult to lose it.  Whether you are a mother and need to establish financial support, or you think you are a child's father and need to establish your rights to visitation, we can help you.  Also, on the other end of the spectrum, if it is in your child's best interest for someone else to step into the parental role, our experienced team has traveled the path many times with others.

Establishing Paternity 

Research overwhelmingly indicates your child will perform better academically, adapt and develop better socially and cope better emotionally if his or her father plays a significant role in their life. Children with active fathers score higher on standardized tests and exhibit fewer behavioral issues than those with absent fathers. In the event your child was born outside of wedlock, there exists no legal connection between father and child without taking specific legal steps toward filiation.

Filiation – also known as paternity – is the legal action you will need to take to establish who will be your child’s legal father, carrying with it all the associated rights and responsibilities. The attorneys at R+E can file a Petition for Filiation on your behalf, get the process started, and help move you toward the certainty of a court order.

You will need some kind of evidence to support your claim you are the father. Mississippi Courts accept DNA testing as dispositive evidence paternity should be established so long as the results indicate more than a 98% probability of paternity. Your R+E attorney can connect you with a reputable DNA testing laboratory to provide testing at a reasonable cost. You may also provide your child’s birth certificate as evidence of paternity if it was signed at the time of birth by the father. When both parties agree on filiation, state approved affidavits may be submitted as evidence if signed by both parties and notarized. Courts also accept corroborated testimony of paternity in the event none of the above are available.

Establishing paternity gives your child the same rights to financial support and other benefits given to children born of a marriage including child support. After paternity is confirmed by court order, the fathers name is placed on the child’s birth certificate, so there is no longer any question about the father’s identity. When the Court establishes you are the father, you can request the child’s surname (last name) be changed to yours. This request is usually granted unless the child has reached an age in which they are widely known in the community by another last name.

Filiation ensures either parent can seek child support and other benefits (on behalf of the child) from the other. This means a newly established father can petition for custody, just as if they were the "legal" father from birth. As a newly confirmed father, you may be required to pay part or all of the expenses related to the mother’s pregnancy. A court can also require you to add your child to any existing health insurance policies or purchase a health insurance policy for your child. You will, however, be entitled to get to spend time with your child so long as the court determines visitation to be in your child’s best interest.

Filiation also ensures your child can inherit from the father and his family. Your child will also be able to receive Social Security and Veteran’s benefits on his or her father's record, if eligible.

If you don’t take steps to establish paternity, you could lose all rights to custody or visitation with your child, and you may even lose the right to receive notice of court proceedings affecting the placement and care of your child. Likewise, your child will never receive the support and care he or she deserves without filiation. 

Your R+E attorney will guide you through each step of the way.

Termination of Parental Rights

Although termination of a parent’s rights and responsibilities may seem extreme to you, as it does to us, laws in Mississippi allow for just that when a child’s circumstances or a biological parent’s choices call for termination. Rest assured the courts will only terminate the parental rights of a child’s parent (or parents) when they are absolutely certain such an extreme order is in the child’s best interest.

You have most likely clicked your way to this page because you are considering adoption. Termination of parental rights occurs most commonly as a companion to an adoption case. Your R+E attorneys will always request a termination of parental rights when facilitating your adoption. Thankfully the laws in Mississippi allow for a biological parent to simply sign a document terminating his or her parental rights in the context of adoption. If the birth parents of your adoptive child are willing to do so, your adoption case will move smoothly. However, if the parent or parents of your adoptive child are unwilling or simply not available to sign off, the laws also allow for termination of parental rights when certain other facts are present, like abandonment or if the parent is unfit.

Sadly some parents simply should not be allowed to raise a child. Fortunately a termination of parental rights case can proceed even when an adoption is not currently an option. You may have a child whose absent parent has refused to take any responsibility or involvement with your child. You’re probably certain the child would be better off without any connection with that parent. Courts can terminate the absent parent’s rights if he or she is simply willing to sign.

Your Termination of Parental Rights case will require a guardian ad litem. Mississippi law requires that the court appoint an additional attorney to conduct an investigation for the court to determine if termination of parental rights is appropriate and if termination will be in the best interest of the adoptive child. Although there will be additional fees associated with compensation of the guardian ad litem, your R+E attorneys will assist you throughout their investigation to make sure all is handled quickly and efficiently.

We Can Help You

Here is the way this works. Call our office (601-898-8655) or confidentially submit a basic intake form so our staff can complete a standard conflict check. That’s when we make sure nothing on this end will stand in the way of our being helpful. Then, we will schedule a time for you to talk to one or more of our attorneys to go over your situation.

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FAQs related to Parental Rights

While there are certain circumstances in which both parents rights can be involuntarily terminated, this is extremely difficult to privately accomplish unless both are clearly unfit.  The Department of Human Services, state social workers and Youth Court would most likely be involved in this sort of situation, and a potential adoption for a legally free child would be facilitated through the foster care system 

No, a mother is not automatically entitled to physical custody of her children. This is a common misconception. Mothers and fathers have equal rights to their children under the law, and courts are not supposed to hold preconceived notions on the issue. Parents can either agree to a custody arrangement, or go to court and let the judge decide. A court’s determination of custody will rely on an analysis of the Albright factors, which are as follows:

  • Age, health and gender of the child.
  • Parent having continuity of care prior to the separation.
  • Parent with best parenting skills and willingness and capacity to provide primary child care.
  • Employment of the parent and responsibilities of that employment.
  • Physical and mental health and age of the parent.
  • Emotional ties of parent to child.
  • Moral fitness of the parent.
  • Home, school and coomunity record of the child.
  • Preference of the child at age sufficient to express a preference.
  • Stability of parent’s home environment and employment of each parent.
  • Relative financial situation of the parents.
  • Difference in religion of the parents.
  • Differences in personal values of the parents.
  • Differences in lifestyle of the parents.
  • Other factors relevant to the parent-child relationship.

Child support is paid until a child obtains the age of 21 or is otherwise emancipated.  Sometimes, parents can agree to their own rules about child support termination or extend child support due to a child's special needs or through their education.   

Child support in Mississippi is regulated by statute, so for most people the amount of child support that you should expect to receive/pay is fairly standard. The Mississippi child support guidelines state a parent paying child support should pay 14% of their adjusted gross income (which is basically income after mandatory deductions such as taxes and government assigned deductions) for one child, 20% of their adjusted gross income for two children, 22% of their adjusted gross income for three children, 24% of their adjusted gross income for four children, and 26% of their adjusted gross income for five or more children. However, these guidelines govern those parents making an adjusted gross income between $10,000 and $100,000. Child support paid by a parent earning an amount of money outside of this range can vary significantly.

An attorney the court appoints to represent the best interests of a child in a divorce or parental rights and responsibilities case.

Legal custody is the “thinking” side of parenting. Decisions like where the child will attend school, where they will go to church, and whether they should go to the doctor are all examples of exercising legal custody. In Mississippi, it is common for parents to have joint legal custody of their children. Under such an arrangement, parents must work together to make joint decisions regarding their children’s welfare. In cases where parents absolutely cannot agree on anything, the court may grant sole legal custody to one of the parents.

A parent who has physical custody of their children is the parent with which the children live most of the time. Typically, one parent will have physical custody of the children, while their former spouse will have rights to periods of visitation with the kids. It is possible for parents to share joint physical custody of the children. Under these circumstances, the children typically spend an equal amount of time with each parent.

There is a misconception among Mississippians that a child may choose the parent with whom he or she wishes to live upon reaching the age of twelve. This is simply not the case. There must be a showing of material changes in circumstances since the last Order which have had an adverse affect on the child and that their best interest, coupled with the parental selection. While our law on this topic is well settled, many chancellors believe that if a child has made a choice, it should be honored. This is not the law.

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When you think you are ready to be more informed through customized analysis, the best thing we offer is to sit with you in person or over a conference call to educate you and think through your goals and a plan to accomplish them. This will make you feel better –more informed and more in control. You can start the process by simply calling the office or by clicking the link below to confidentially submit an Intake Form and we will contact you.

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