When you get divorced or separated from your child’s other parent, what are your rights as a father living in the state of Florida? Custody and visitation questions are often highly specific from case to case, but there are some things that you should definitely know about your parental rights in the state. Florida laws concerning custody and visitation have undergone changes in recent years, and it’s important to understand where you stand if you’re headed for family court. Take a look at some of the most important things to know about father’s rights in Florida.
Establishing Paternity in Florida
Before you can exercise any rights to your child, you’ll need to determine whether your paternity of the child has been established or whether there are more steps that you’ll need to take. If you have not established your paternity of the child, then you have no legal relationship to the child at all – and therefore, no rights to the child. So it’s important to make sure that this step is covered first.
A lot depends on whether you were married or unmarried when the child was born. If you were married to the mother of the child at the time of the child’s birth, in Florida, you’re legally presumed to be the father of the child. That means that in the event of a divorce, your paternity is not in question and you have rights to time with your child.
However, if you were not married to the mother of the child at the time of the child’s birth, you may not have established paternity. There are several ways to establish paternity of a child, and marriage is only one of them. However, others may require more action on your part. You can sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity stating that you are the father of the child. This option may be available to you in the hospital when the child is born, but you can also sign it at a later time. Another method is to get an administrative order based on genetic testing. This means that you’ll need to take a DNA test to prove your paternity. Other methods of establishing paternity include getting a court order signed by a judge, or marrying the mother of the child after the birth and formally updating the birth record, a process called legitimation. Once you’ve established paternity, you can move ahead with asserting your legal rights to have access to your child.
Custody in Florida
It’s unusual for any parent, father or mother, to be awarded sole custody in the state of Florida. Unless the other parent has abandoned the child, is incapable of caring for the child, or poses a threat to the child, you’re unlikely to win full custody. Most experts agree that it’s best for children to have an ongoing relationship with both parents, and in Florida, family courts try to abide by that opinion.
However, fathers can certainly be awarded shared custody of their child. In fact, shared custody is the most likely outcome of a custody case. In the case of shared custody, both parents have the right to spend time with their child. Parents don’t necessarily have to split their parenting time 50-50, however. Generally, how much time a child spends with each parent is determined by the parent’s ability and the needs of the child.
Time-Sharing Arrangements in Florida
In the past, one parent would usually have primary residential custody of the child, and the other parent would have some type of visitation schedule. However, now the standard for custody in Florida is different. Parents enter a time-sharing arrangement, meaning that each parent is entitled to a certain amount of time with their child. Time-sharing arrangements can be changed as the parents’ and child’s needs change, and each parent’s responsibilities are spelled out in a parenting plan.
Parenting Plans in Florida
A parenting plan is a document that contains a time-sharing schedule, as well as a guide to other issues that affect a child such as education and healthcare issues. Parenting plans take the guesswork out of custody and visitation. You can think of it as a roadmap to how to share custody with your ex. When the parenting plan schedule says that it’s your time to spend time with your child, your child’s other parent has to allow them to see you. When the parenting plan says that a particular decision is up to you, then you get to make that decision.
Parents can develop and agree to a parenting plan on their own. If you and your child’s other parent agree on most things and can work together, it’s usually best to create your own parenting plan that meets the needs of your family and your child. However, parents who are unable to compromise or agree on a parenting plan may have one established by the family court. Although resorting to a court-established plan removes a lot of control from both parents, it can sometimes be the best way to get two parents who don’t agree to begin a co-parenting arrangement. Parenting plans remove the need to argue with your child’s other parent, after all. All you have to do is follow the plan. And the plan can always be revised later if you and your child’s other parent reach a point where you can agree on the best way to move forward.
Fathers who can’t afford a family law attorney, or who don’t want to spend the money on an attorney, can advocate for themselves in family court. A legal resource group like National Family Solutions can give you the resources you need to assert your rights in Florida’s family courts. Whether you need to establish paternity, request shared custody, or revise a parenting plan, having access to the legal documents and preparation that you need can help you exercise your rights as a father in Florida.