Men married to the mothers of their children have certain automatic rights in Florida, while unmarried fathers have to take special steps to protect their relationship with their children. While you can always agree to share time with your child, going to court for a custody order may be necessary.
If you and the mother of your child are no longer in a relationship with one another, you may eventually have conflicts surrounding your shared parental responsibilities. Many families try to handle custody matters with informal arrangements, but those off-the-book solutions can put unmarried fathers at a legal disadvantage.
Going to court to seek a formal custody order is often in the best interests of an unmarried father who wants to play an active role in his child’s life.
Informal arrangements don’t protect your rights
If you don’t have a court-approved parenting plan that divides your parenting time and gives you certain decision-making authority, you will have very few options for fighting back quickly when your ex no longer lets you visit with your child.
You will have to file paperwork and wait possibly months before you can have a hearing. On the other hand, when you already have a time-sharing arrangement on record and your ex violates it, you can go straight to the courts to ask for enforcement. While you can still assert your rights at any point when your child is a minor, it will be easiest to have formal protections for your paternal rights from the earliest days after your separation from the mother.
A custody order protects you from enforcement actions
If you take your child for the weekend and your ex becomes angry upon learning that you have started a new romantic relationship, you could find yourself facing allegations of parental kidnapping because there is no custody order granting you time with the child. Your ex could claim that you took the child without the right to do so and could cause a lot of headaches even if you avoid any actual criminal consequences.
Informal arrangements can also cause challenges when they involve child support. While you may eventually get credit for support paid through an informal arrangement, you could face enforcement efforts that could include the loss of your license or even the courts issuing a bench warrant for your arrest.
Moving to establish paternity and then request shared custody from the Florida family courts will help protect your rights as an unmarried father who loves his child.