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Florida fathers who are separated or divorced from their child’s other parent – or who soon will be separated or divorced – have a vested interest in learning about their custody rights in Florida. Do they have custody rights automatically, or is there something they have to do to establish those rights? What specific rights are available to them? What can they expect from the family court and the process of establishing custody? Take a look at some of the things that fathers need to know about establishing custody in Florida.

Fathers Rights and Legitimation in Florida

If you’re a father who was married to your child’s mother at the time your child is born, you’re presumed to be the legal father of that child. The only exception would be if someone else is listed on the child’s birth certificate as the father. But even in that scenario, you could potentially legally replace the person named on the birth certificate as the father under some circumstances.

If your child was adopted, and you and their other parent were married at the time and both signed off on the adoption, you are also the legal father of the child, with all attendant rights and responsibilities. If you were not married at the time of the child’s birth, but you’re listed as the father on the child’s birth certificate, you are also the legal father of the child and have parental rights that can be asserted.

Unmarried fathers whose names were not added to their children’s birth certificates are not automatically considered legal fathers. If the mother was unwed when the child was born and listed no father’s name on the birth certificate, the child does not have a legal father. This is true even if you believe or know for certain that you are the biological father of the child. In that case, before you can claim parental rights, you’ll need to take steps to establish paternity.

Establishing Paternity

If you are not legally considered the father of your child, you’ll need a family court to establish that you are a legal parent before you can begin to assert custody rights. You have the right to petition the court to establish your paternity. How easy or complicated it is to establish paternity depends a lot on the mother of your child. If she agrees before the court that you are the father of the child, the process will be relatively simple.

You’ll both sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity affidavit, and it will become binding after 60 days. From that point on, you are the legal father of that child. If the mother disputes your paternity claim or refuses to cooperate, then you’ll have to provide evidence of paternity. You may need to ask the court to order genetic testing to prove your paternity. Given proof, the court will acknowledge you as the legal father and you will have parental rights.

How to Procure Fathers Custody Rights in Florida

Parental rights include fathers custody rights to make or weigh in on important decisions about your child – such as where they go to school or what type of healthcare they receive – and the right to have custody of your child or visitation time with your child. It’s unusual in Florida for one parent to be granted sole custody in family court, unless one parent poses some type of serious risk to the child’s health and well-being or is demonstrably unable to care for a child. Even when physical custody is not shared, it’s common for both parents to share legal custody – that is, the right to make important decisions for your child.

If you and your child’s other parent live in close enough proximity to each other to reasonably share custody, you’ll probably also receive some type of shared custody arrangement from the court. If you and your child’s other parent can come to an agreement about how best to split your parenting time, you can jointly submit a parenting plan to the court for approval. If both parents agree on how to share parenting time and neither party is being unduly pressured or acting under duress, a court will likely sign off on a reasonable plan submitted by the parents.

However, if you and your child’s other parent cannot agree, the court will set a parenting plan for you based on the information they have about your family. Keep in mind that a plan approved by the court need not be a 50/50 split in order for it to be considered a joint custody arrangement. In some cases, joint custody is not appropriate, and one parent will retain physical custody of the child while the other is awarded visitation rights. This can happen when:

    • Parents live too far away from each other to reasonably share custody.
    • One parent wants visitation but is not interested in pursuing custody.
    • Or if one parent is prevented from having custody.

Changing or Modifying a Parenting Plan

A court may issue a permanent custody or visitation order, but despite the word “permanent,” custody and visitation orders can be – and often are – modified as the family’s circumstances change. For instance: if parents live far away from each other, so that one parent is granted physical custody and the other parent is granted visitation, but later, one parent moves closer to the other, the arrangement may be changed to a joint custody arrangement. Or, if one parent is granted only supervised visitation, they may be able to move to unsupervised visitation or even joint custody if they follow conditions set out by the court.

This means that even if you don’t get the outcome you desire in family court, you may be able to achieve that outcome at a later point. Good legal guidance can help you pursue and reach the custody or visitation outcome that you’re looking for, but you don’t necessarily need to hire an expensive attorney. A legal resource group like Family Law Legal Group can help you prepare documentation and evidence, get your testimony ready, and find resources and experts that can bolster your case.

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