Florida Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

By Teo Spengler

Updated July 23, 2018

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Unmarried parents are the exception rather than the rule in this country, and laws seem focused on, and oriented toward, married couples. Unmarried parents who separate have to jump through hoops to deal with issues like parenting time and support issues, and it can be difficult and confusing. In Florida, custody laws for unmarried parents require unwed fathers to take action to protect their rights, even if they are named on the birth certificate and pay child support.

Unmarried Child Custody in Florida

While a married man is automatically assumed to be the legal and biological father of his wife's children, an unmarried man has no such guarantees. Under Florida law, the unmarried mother is considered the natural guardian of her child. She has sole legal rights over the child until paternity is established. Unmarried fathers' rights in Florida are much more nebulous. Even if the unmarried father's name is on the birth certificate, he does not get any legal rights to time with his child without a court order.

These issues don't arise while an unmarried couple stays together. The mother has total legal authority over the child, so if she wants the child to spend time with the father, the father doesn't need to fight for parenting time. But once the couple separates, the father will find that Florida custody laws for fathers do not go very far to protect an unmarried father's right to see his child.

Florida Custody Laws for Fathers

An unmarried father in Florida can obtain parenting rights, but the state doesn't make it easy. Under Florida law, both biological parents supposedly have equal rights to custody, but the father has to go to court to make it happen. First, an unmarried biological father who has not yet been assigned child support must fill out and file a Petition to Determine Paternity. The petition can also be used to establish time-sharing, like custody and visitation. With the form, you file a Florida child support guidelines worksheet, as well as a parenting plan.

An unmarried father who has already been placed on child support can file a Petition to Establish Timesharing and Shared Parental Responsibility. Florida law no longer uses terms like child custody and visitation, but rather speaks in terms of timesharing. This basically refers to a court-ordered schedule of when the child will be with each parent.

Shared parental responsibility means that both parents have equal parenting rights. With shared parental responsibility, an unmarried father will have the same say as an unmarried mother in the important parenting decisions of the child.