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Father’s Rights- What Rights do Father’s Have With Respect to Children Under Florida Law

Posted by attorney Joseph Gufford

Firstly, the purpose of this blog post is not to say that I have any favoritism towards Fathers over Mothers when it comes to whom I represent. I represent both fathers and mothers with equal vigor. So, this post should be equally informative to both.

In the marriage context, Father’s have just as many rights to the care, custody and control of their children as mother do. In the non-marriage context, father’s have to establish their status as the legal father of the child, i.e paternity.

Paternity and Child Custody

The term paternity does not mean a “paternity test". Paternity testing is a method of proving paternity and establishing the legal father/child relationship. The Department of Revenue has added to the public’s confusion. DOR can only establish paternity and child support obligations and enforce the same. However, in their orders, they frequently refer to one parent as being the “custodial" or “non-custodial". Since DOR can only establish paternity and child support, these designations are very misleading to both parents. In essence, the designation of a custodial or non-custodial parent in a DOR order is meaningless. Until a court that has the capacity to determine custody issues has done so, either parent can petition the court for relief.

In the early days of child custody law, mothers definitely had the upper hand when it came to custody issues. That has changed quite a bit over the last few years as Florida has abandoned concepts of “custody" and made shared parental responsibility the standard in Florida.

Shared Parental Responsiblity

What does “Shared Parental Responsibility" mean you might ask? The term is somewhat misleading and has nothing do with who has a child and when. It simply means that both parents are required to “confer" when making “major decisions" affecting the welfare of their children. Did I say “agree". No, I didn’t. I said “confer". About what? “Major Decisions". If you can’t agree on a major decision, then you take it in front of the judge and the judge decides the issue.

Parenting Plans

The next issue is what type of Parenting Plan is the Court going to enter. You have have heard terms like “primary residence", “primary custody", “primary residential responsibility", etc. Those terms no longer exist under Florida Law because they were misleading and gave the person who had “primary residential responsibility" the belief that they did not have to engage in shared parenting because they had “custody". All of that changed in 2008 when the Florida Legislature enacted sweeping changes to Florida’s child Custody Laws. Basically, the misleading terms were taken out of the statutes in favor of shared parenting as it was intended to be.

In the 19th Judicial Circuit (Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Indian River Counties), we are blessed with having a set of Circuit Judges who are very knowledgeable in the changes to Florida law. Fathers and Mothers receive equal treatment and consideration when it comes to parental responsibility and timesharing considerations. However, old myths still haunt the public’s view of child custody. The theory that in order for a father to get majority timesharing that he has to prove the mother to be “unfit" is no longer true. Likewise, the theory that Father’s always get “screwed" in the divorce/child custody context is likewise not true. Mothers need to be aware of this as well because many of them operate under these myths.

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