Becoming a father can be an incredible and life-altering experience. Some men only really commit to their careers when they have a child to support. Others start to think about their family and how they live their lives. Children can be a powerful source of motivation to be a better person.
Married fathers have the benefit of not only likely around-the-clock access to their child but also immediate legal protections for their relationship through a presumption of paternity. The same is unfortunately not true for unmarried fathers in Florida.
Your rights have the same protection under the law, but they aren’t as automatic. Many unmarried fathers leave control of everything regarding their children and their relationship to the discretion of the mother. You may show up for visitation whenever she agrees to give you. The problem with this approach is that if she changes her mind about you visiting, you could lose access to your child indefinitely.
Unmarried fathers need formal custody orders
A formal custody order with a parenting plan outlining specific time-sharing arrangements gives you an enforceable right to spend time with your child and to have a say in the decisions about their education and healthcare. Until you have a court order acknowledging your right to parenting time and decision-making authority, your ex can potentially make all the decisions without you or completely eliminate your access to your child.
A formal custody order gives you the right to go to the courts if the mother of your child suddenly refuses to give you time with them. It also establishes your interest in the child, which can make it easier for you to intervene if you believe that their safety is at risk because of the mother’s behavior.
Getting a custody order does not need to be contentious
Despite what some people think, securing a formal custody order does not have to lead to a worsening of the relationship between the parents. You can work cooperatively to negotiate your own parenting plan and then move forward with uncontested proceedings in court.
Even if there is hostility or frustration at first about the attempt to be so formal, your child’s mother may eventually come to respect the dedication you show to the child and your continued involvement in their life. Establishing paternity and then formally asking for custody rights are important steps for unmarried fathers in Florida.