Unmarried fathers can find themselves in a tricky situation when it comes to parental rights. While mothers have automatic rights to their children in the state of Florida, unmarried fathers generally need to establish their paternity before they can claim the same legal status.
Unlike some other states, having your name on a child’s birth certificate does not legally establish you as the father of the child in Florida, and if you haven’t established your parental rights, it means that your child’s mother can call for the child at any time and the police will be authorized to pick up the child — even if the child’s mother originally gave you permission to take physical custody. If you refuse to give the child back, the child’s mother can accuse you of serious civil torts like false imprisonment or even criminal acts like kidnapping.
So how does an unmarried father deal with this challenging situation? In this article, we’ll tell you what you need to know and how an attorney can help you establish paternity to make sure your rights as a parent are protected.
Establishing Paternity: What Unmarried Fathers Need to Know
Although your parental rights aren’t protected unless you establish paternity, you can still be held liable for child support in Florida even without a paternity test. You also can’t avoid paying child support by giving up your parental rights — at least not unless the child’s mother is remarried and the stepfather wants to legally adopt.
For unmarried fathers, then, doing nothing to establish paternity is a poor decision because it may result in you paying child support without actually getting to see your child. Besides the negative effects this will have on both you and your child, this “do-nothing” strategy will also maximize the child support that the state requires you to pay.
There are several ways to establish paternity as an unmarried father, but if the child’s mother refuses to acknowledge you as the father by signing an affidavit, then you’ll likely still need to work with an attorney and petition the court to recognize your paternity rights. If you decide to follow this process, the court may require you, your child, and the mother to submit to genetic testing in order to determine paternity to a reasonable degree of certainty. Usually, it’s best to establish paternity just after birth or when the relationship between parents is good.
Your Rights After Establishing Paternity
Once your paternity is legally established, the mother will have a right to support, but you’ll also have a right to time-sharing. If you want to maximize your privileges and minimize your child support obligation, then the best way to accomplish this is by spending time with your child and caring for them yourself.
The courts will look to your child’s interest when they determine where the child will spend time. This means that your involvement in the child’s life, even during the mother’s pregnancy, is important and demonstrates to the court that you intend to play an important and positive role in the child’s life, and that you’re not just trying to reduce the financial burden of child support.
Of course, there’s nothing about establishing paternity that prevents you from maintaining a healthy and harmonious relationship with the child’s mother either — in fact, this is exactly what you should do whenever possible.
At some point over the first 18 years of your child’s life, though, you and the child’s mother will most likely disagree about something. When you do, you want to know that you’ll have a say in your child’s life: where they live, where they go to school, what medical treatment they get, what faith they practice, how they spend their time, and how much support you’ll be obligated to pay. Working with an experienced family law attorney to establish your paternity is the best way to ensure that these important parental rights are protected under the law.
Unmarried Father? Contact the Devolder Law Firm for Help with Paternity and Other Legal Issues
If you’re an unmarried father seeking to protect your rights, the committed and compassionate legal team at the Devolder Law Firm is here to help. We use our knowledge and experience to guide our clients and offer legal advice without judgment or condescension, and we’ll listen to your needs and learn about your circumstances to help identify the legal approach that works best for your unique situation.
If you’re ready to take action and start making sure your parental rights are protected, call us at 813-773-8233or fill out our convenient online contact form and we’ll get in touch right away to schedule an initial consultation.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.