Did you know that unmarried fathers in the State of Florida are not immediately given the same rights to their child as a married father? Under the law in Florida, unmarried fathers do not have rights to their child without a court order. This is true even where the father is listed on the birth certificate. This is even true where a father has been placed on child support by the Department of Revenue or Child Support Enforcement.
If you have fathered a child outside of wedlock, in order to get your rights to your child, you have to petition the court for them. In Florida, if you have not yet been placed on child support, then a Petition to Determine Paternity and for Related Relief will have to be filed with the Clerk of Court for the appropriate county. If you have already been placed on child support, but not given your rights (as frequently happens), then a Petition to Establish Timesharing and Shared Parental Responsibility must be filed. Ultimately, the goal is to have paternity established in a court of law and get your parental rights and time with your child. Whether or not the child resides primarily with you or with the child’s mother, is up to the judge. In making that decision, there are a number of factors contained within Section 61.13 of the Florida Statutes that the judge has to consider. In Florida, we no longer have “child custody” and “visitation.” Those concepts have been replaced by the concept of “timesharing.” If the child does not reside primarily with you, you will still have “timesharing” with the child set out by a schedule. With a court-ordered schedule for timesharing, the other party can no longer withhold the child from you. If they do, then they risk being found in contempt of court.
Regardless of whether the child lives primarily with you or with the other party, except under very limited circumstances, you should each be considered equal parents and be awarded “shared parental responsibility.” With shared parental responsibility, each party has an equal say as to the important parenting decisions of the child. Decisions involving important areas such as religion, education, and healthcare should be discussed between the parents and made together. Just because the child does not live primarily with you, you should not be considered any less of a parent. Furthermore, you should have access to all of your child’s medical and educational records and be placed on all emergency contact lists. The mother will also have to abide by a parental relocation consent if she wishes to move, as well as keep you informed as to your child’s location at all times. This includes names of who the child is with, the address the child may be at, and a contact number.
Once the court has entered an order establishing you as the parent, providing you with timesharing and providing you with shared parental responsibility, you will have obtained your rights as they pertain to your child. Under current child support laws, this often leads to a reduction in your child support as well since you will be supporting the child during the times that he or she is with you.
Should you have any questions or wish to discuss any of these matters with an experienced and knowledgeable family law attorney, contact us online or give us a call at (904) 355-2700. At Makofka & Makofka, Family Attorneys at Law, we gladly assist fathers in northeast Florida in Duval, St. Johns, Nassau, Clay, and Baker Counties.