Fathers And Their Legal Rights In Florida (A Guide for Unmarried Fathers)
When a child is born during a marriage, the father is considered the legal father of the child. Unfortunately, Fathers who were not married to the child's mother by the time of birth, do not have any legal rights over the child until a Circuit Court judge signs an Order establishing paternity.
Signing the Birth Certificate only serves as a presumption of paternity.Most fathers that were not married to the child's mother when the child was born, signed the child's birth certificate and believe that signature entitles them to have parental rights under the law. That assumption is incorrect. A Father's signature on the child's birth certificate only serves as a presumption of paternity, nothing more. This "presumption of paternity" only serves the primary purpose of establishing a child support obligation by the Department of Revenue against the Father.
A father who wants to have legal rights established and be involved in the daily life of his minor child, will be protected under the law when a Circuit Court judge signs an Order making a determination that the father is the biological father of the minor child. Only at that time, will he be considered to be the child's "legal father" and entitled to all the parental rights that the child's mother has enjoyed.
Many Fathers suffer a great deal and allow too much time to pass by, while the child's mother makes all decisions regarding the minor child, alienates the minor child from the Father, and continuously interferes with the close bond the father once had with the child. The Court recognizes the importance of a father's relationship with his child and the pubic policy in the State of Florida supports the notion that a continuous and close relationship between each parent and the minor child, should be encouraged. A father who wants to ensure that his legal rights will be protected under the law and respected by the child's mother, should file a Petition to Establish Paternity in Circuit Court.
Although the self-help division provides the necessary forms and some guidance as to the procedure involved, they cannot give anyone legal advice nor provide you with a strategy geared towards attaining your desired Parenting Plan. A skilled attorney that practices in the area of family law would be able to guide you through the process, provide you with recommendations based on the law, and be your best advocate in court.
The Importance of The Parenting PlanAfter you have filed your Petition to Establish Paternity in Circuit Court, you are on your way to establishing your legal rights. During the process, you will have a Parenting Plan, which is a detailed document that specifies the legal rights and responsibilities of each parent to his or her child. The Parenting Plan may include a provision that grants shared parental responsibility, which just means that both parents have joint decision-making authority over the major decisions relating to the minor child.
The Parenting Plan should also include a specific time-sharing schedule that specifies how many days and nights per week each parent will have his or her child. Although every parent is not entitled to equal time-sharing under the law, many parents are granted equal time-sharing regardless after the judges determine that it's in the best interests of the minor child. In addition to the day-to-day time-sharing schedule, the Parenting Plan should include how each parent will spend time with his or her child during the holidays, special events, and vacations.
The Parenting Plan also sets rules and parameters for parents to follow regarding the minor child, provides details as to the role of each parent in the child's life, and serves as a guide to the parents when issues develop. For example, instead of having the child go to the mother's school district, the Parenting Plan may specify that the minor child should attend school at a midway point between the mother's home and the father's home.
Many fathers who sign a Parenting Plan without legal representation, often regret the terms they agreed to and try to get a modification. Unfortunately, modifying an existing Parenting Plan is much harder than establishing the correct one from the start, because the burden of proof of greater.
Establishing a Parenting PanSome parents have the capacity to agree to all the terms of the Parenting Plan at a Mediation Conference. When that happens, both parents sign the Parenting Plan and the judge enters an Order approving it. Other parents are not able to reach any agreement and the judge makes the ultimate decision on the terms of the Parenting Plan, based on the child's best interest.
In deciding the child's best interest, the judge will look at the factors listed in the statute, hear your testimony, the mother's testimony, testimony from other witnesses, and from expert witnesses. The judge will not generally allow the testimony of the minor child, unless good cause is show and the minor child meets the criteria under the law.
There are other options available that may assist the judge in making the decision, such as designating a Guardian Ad Litem to investigate and make recommendations to the judge. A Guardian Ad Litem is entitled to speak with the minor child, the child's teachers, doctors, and another other personal who plays a significant role in the child's life. The Guardian Ad Litem may visit the parents' home and the school as well in order to provide the judge will a detailed report containing the investigation and recommendations.
Many parents find it comforting and less stressful to resolve the parenting issues and agree to the terms of a Parenting Plan that allows both parents to be involved in the child's life. By reaching an agreement, many parents avoid lengthy litigation and have some control over the outcome of the case. Unfortunately, some parents are not able to communicate without each other and certainly unable to reach an agreement that benefits both parents. In these cases, its a better option to have the judge decide rather than agreeing to a Parenting Plan that you will later regret.