Not only is it a fundamental right to bear children, but parents have rights as they relate to the upbringing of a child. These parental rights often fall to the wayside, as the responsibility of raising children is usually at the forefront of the discussion. However, parental rights encompass the ability to direct the upbringing of their children in various ways. Things get a little more complicated when parents of a child are not married, as the “best interests of the child” standard is the defining principle when it comes to determining child custody and visitation in those situations. However, just because these parental rights are not absolute does not mean that they are not important fundamental rights.
Generally speaking, the most basic of the parental rights is the right to control the upbringing of one’s child. This includes everything from medical care to methods of educating the child. As is the case with any policy in governing children, the “best interest of the child” is balanced against this right to control the child’s upbringing. In other words, while a parent may decide how the child is brought up, they may not do so in a manner that is considered unreasonable as determined by the jurisdiction’s rules.
For example, in most jurisdictions, parental rights include the decision to educate their child at home. However, there are generally laws that prohibit a parent from deciding that their child does not need any education at all. Furthermore, while a parent usually has the right to choose a child’s pediatrician, in most jurisdictions they may not completely withhold traditional medicine from their child and replace it with untested healing methods as that is not considered to be in the child’s best interest.
When a child is born to unwed parents or a couple with a child gets divorced, the term “parental rights” takes on a different meaning. Each parent has a right to see their child, and visitation will be granted to any parent as long as they are not considered a detriment to their child’s well being. Though practical considerations often prevent joint custody between the parents, custody of the child is a right that at least one of the parents will retain unless both are judged to be a danger to the child if he or she is to remain in their custody.