If you are an unmarried biological Father in the state of Florida and you have not established your legal rights of paternity, you may be playing with fire. Many Fathers do not quite grasp the ramifications of not filing with the Court to determine legal paternity until it is too late, and generally that is when access and timesharing to the child begins to be denied. If that situation does arise, while it is not irreversible, it could take some time before regular contact and timesharing is restored, so it becomes even more important to address your child’s legal paternity before this occurs. To ensure you have contact and access to your child from the get-go, the best time to go to Court to establish your rights is upon the birth of your child.
Florida Statute 744.301 provides that the Mother of a child born out of wedlock is the natural guardian of the child and is entitled to primary residential care and custody of the child unless the Court enters an order stating otherwise. In essence, this says that the biological mother has the authority to determine all issues related to a child until the Court determines otherwise. While the parents can agree on a natural and biological father by signing a "Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity" form, there is no right to timesharing that flows from such an acknowledgment for the Father unless and until a Petition to Determine Paternity is filed in the Circuit Court in the county in which you live. Once such a Petition is filed, that will begin the process for a biological Father to secure legal rights, including a timesharing schedule, with his child.
In too many cases the Father will want to believe that the relationship with the Mother will remain stable and equal in terms of the child, however, many times that dynamic will in fact change and when that happens, it will be the Mother who will be able to dictate the terms of the relationship that you have with your child, and at that point, even if you file a Petition to Determine Paternity immediately thereafter, it could still take several months before the Court will ultimately determine a parenting plan that would include timesharing for you and your child. As is the rule in most areas of life, it is almost always better to be proactive than reactive and this is particularly true when it comes to your children. Do not allow yourself to be complacent with the status quo. If you do not have a Court Order that guarantees you timesharing with your child, it is critically important to understand that your relationship with your child is completely subject to the whims of the Mother. No matter how good your current relationship with the Mother may be, that status is still subject to change upon a moment’s notice, and if that change occurs, you will want to have your rights already established for the protection of your child. The importance of protecting your rights cannot be understated. Should you have any questions about establishing your rights of paternity to your children, or to move forward with this process of legally determining paternity for your children, contact an experienced family law attorney today.