Parental Rights Of Unmarried Fathers

Under the United States Constitution, parents have the right to care for and raise their children. When parents are married, the father is presumed to be the child's legal parent. The mother's identity is apparent when a child is born at the hospital. Because it is much easier to identify the mother, it is rarely questioned that the mother is also a legal parent. This is true regardless of whether the mother is married to the father at the time of the child's birth. Married or not, it is ideal when parents get along and do not need to dispute if or when their child spends time with the other parent.

Unlike mothers, unmarried fathers are not presumed to be the legal father at birth. Often, unmarried fathers at the time of the child's birth will have considerable obstacles to overcome if he wants to spend time with his child. "Paternity" is the process required for unmarried fathers to establish legal rights to their children. Until a father's paternity is established, the law does not recognize any legal relationship between him and a child. Additionally, an unmarried father cannot request legal or physical custody of his child, nor can he provide for the child financially, known as child support. When fathers do not have any legal rights, mothers have sole legal and physical custody of the child and can deny the father access to the child. Paternity must be established before the child turns 18.

Florida Parental Rights of Unmarried Fathers Attorney

If you have questions regarding parental rights of unmarried fathers, reach out to Bacchus Law Firm today. Paternity can be a sensitive topic for some families, so opening a legal case may feel overwhelming. Family law attorney Nisha Bacchus at Bacchus Law Firm carries years of experience practicing law and can take on your case with ease. 

Bacchus Law Firm has offices in Fort Lauderdale, FL. However, we accept clients in Palm Beach County, Broward County, Miami-Dade County, Hendry County, or Collier County. Call (954) 500-5555 to set up a consultation with Bacchus Law Firm today.

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Establishing Paternity in Florida

There are a few methods for parents who want to establish a father's paternity. The first involves both parents signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity and submitting it to the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics. When notarized or signed in front of witnesses, this document gives a father legal rights to his child. Ideally, unmarried parents at the time of the child's birth would sign this document at the hospital or very soon after the birth. The information from the Acknowledgement document is automatically added to the child's birth certificate. Although it is convenient to address paternity at the hospital, parents can submit the document any time before the child turns 18.

The second way to establish paternity is by marriage after the birth. Once the parents are married, the father becomes the child's legal father. However, parents who want to update their child's birth certificate must take an extra step. The parents can either submit a second document acknowledging that they share a common child or provide a written statement when applying for the marriage license.  

The third way to establish paternity is through the help of the court system. The mother, biological father, or the State of Florida can file a petition in the local circuit court and request that a judge intervene if paternity has not already been established. When the court system becomes involved, it is often because one parent wants or does not want the father to have legal rights to the child. Although the State of Florida is not involved in every paternity action, it can become involved when there are concerns about child support or when the mother or child receive public assistance.

In many paternity actions through the court system, a judge can order an alleged father to provide a DNA sample if he has not already done so. These cases tend to have more conflict, require several court appearances, and can take several months.

There are instances, however, when parents do not want the alleged father to voluntarily sign an Acknowledgement form until there is conclusive evidence that he is the biological father. In these cases, the mother, alleged father, and child can all submit DNA samples. When it is confirmed that the father is the biological father, a judge can relatively quickly sign an order without either parent appearing in court.

The final method for establishing paternity is through a collaborative paternity process. In this process, parents agree to hire collaborative law attorneys specializing in family and paternity matters. Instead of litigating a paternity case in a courtroom, parents can work through parenting disputes, establish paternity, and agree to custody and parenting time (sometimes called "time-sharing"). Through this open, honest, and informal negotiation process, parents can avoid costly litigation, save time, and work through their differences so their children can have both parents in their lives. Because some parents experience considerable conflicts, collaborative parenting is not the right solution for every family. Still, it is an option to consider when both parents are committed to mutual decision-making and effective communication.

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Custody And Parenting Time After Establishing Paternity

Except for in collaborative paternity cases, fathers using other methods can face the final obstacle of obtaining custody and parenting time with the child. Until a further court order outlines custody and parenting time, the mother retains sole legal and physical custody, even after the father's paternity is established. Under Florida law,  neither the mother nor father is given preference to the other regarding legal and physical custody. Instead, courts will consider what is in the child's best interest. Often, parents are granted shared legal and physical custody. When this happens, fathers can equally participate in making significant decisions for the child, including:

  • Healthcare and medical procedures
  • Religious upbringing
  • Schooling
  • Living arrangements

If parents cannot provide a court with a parenting plan, a judge will create one for them based on the child's best interests. Judges consider multiple factors, including the location of both parents, any specific needs of the child, each parent's ability to care for the child's daily and specific needs, and several other factors. Depending on the child's age and maturity level, the child's preference can also be considered. Parenting plans state the time each parent spends with the child and when each parent sees the child. Because children often have busy and changing schedules, parenting plans are divided into three parts: school year, summer, and holidays. Judges will often make these plans as specific as possible so parents clearly understand when and how often they receive parenting time. Even if the mother has had full custody and parenting time or has denied the father access to the child, the new court order is what parents must follow.

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Revoking Paternity

Although it can be challenging for fathers to get legal rights to their children, it is even more challenging to revoke them. A vast majority of the time, this is a good thing, and fathers want to remain in their children's lives. There are situations, however, where fathers establish paternity and later want to revoke it after learning that they are not the biological father, while at other times, the State of Florida can remove legal rights through a termination proceeding. In either case, a highly qualified family law and paternity attorney is necessary to assist in courtroom procedures.

For parents who have signed and submitted an Acknowledgement of Paternity form, paternity can be revoked for 60 days. Once that period has ended, paternity cannot be revoked, and further legal action is required to terminate paternity. For married parents who later divorce, paternity is not revoked, nor does a father need to prove that he is the father of the children born into the marriage. Through marriage with the mother, the law presumes that the husband is the child's father. The spouses' divorce decree will identify them as the parents and address custody and parenting time.

Fathers or alleged fathers with concerns about their legal rights to a child should work with an attorney who can protect their rights and advocate for their interests.

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Additional Resources

Florida Dept. of Revenue – The Florida Department of Revenue website provides information about establishing paternity and child support, including forms, instructions, and contact information.

Florida Parenting Time and Child Support Laws – The Florida Legislature provides all laws that govern custody, parenting time, and requirements and guidelines for child support payments.

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Florida Parental Rights of Unmarried Fathers Attorney | Broward County, FL

Navigating paternity rights is complicated and can be emotionally trying. Unmarried fathers may feel frustrated that they don’t have the same rights as other parents. Dealing with this difficult subject is much easier if you seek the assistance of a skilled family law attorney. Bacchus Law Firm is a knowledgeable family law firm in Fort Lauderdale, FL that can help you obtain a favorable outcome in your case.

We serve clients throughout the Miami-metropolitan area including Miami, West Palm Beach, East Naples, or LaBelle, Florida. Call (954) 500-5555 to arrange a free consultation with Bacchus Law Firm today.

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