Child custody and child support can be among the most difficult issues that a family can face. The legal process can be further complicated when parents were never married. In Florida, when an unwed mother gives birth, she is typically seen as the primary legal guardian for that child. When both parents agree on custody and time-sharing, verbal agreements may suffice. However, to resolve disputes in the courtroom, paternity must be legally established. Parents may not be able to turn verbal agreements into court orders until this step is taken, even if the father’s name is on the birth certificate.
Establishing Paternity to Enforce Parental Rights
The choice to establish paternity can be made by either the father or mother and will set the legal foundation for court ordered child custody, visitation, and child support. Once established, the biological father can be granted both the rights and responsibilities of a legal parent in Florida. However, this does not mean that a father will always be granted a 50/50 custody split.
When a dispute is taken before a judge, there is a strong preference for awarding joint custody. While the court will take many factors into account, decisions are typically made based on the best interest of the child. This means that the situation which sees a child is best looked after will trump parental preferences. To begin the process, either parent may file the Petition to Determine Paternity with the court. Additionally, parents pursuing a court order will also want to submit a parenting plan or child support agreement.
Legal Help for Unwed Parents
Every family has a different story and for many parents who were never married, establishing paternity can be the right path forward. However, parents seeking to establish child custody, visitation, or support must be aware that the terms of an agreement may affect your family for decades to come. Additionally, once an order is in place, it can be difficult to modify an agreement.
If you or your spouse is seeking to establish paternity, it is highly recommended that you contact our firm and tell us about your situation. Our family law attorneys possess more than 90 years of combined experience and can work with you one-on-one to craft a legal strategy tailored to your family’s goals.
Call (904) 701-0591 or request a case evaluation online to speak to an attorney about your legal options.