In Florida there is a big difference between the rights of married and unmarried fathers. Fathers who are married to their child’s Mother when the child is born, or who marry the Mother after the child is born, have full parental rights to their child. In the case of a break up, the Father automatically has rights to custody, time-sharing and decision-making which are equal to the Mother’s. In a divorce case, both married parents come before the court on an equal footing, with the Mother having no more rights than the Father. While this does not mean that every child will spend an equal amount of time with both parents, it does mean that every Father has as much chance of being the equal or even majority time sharing parent as every Mother does.
When Fathers are not married to the Mothers of their children, they do not have full parental rights to their child. Even if the Father signs the birth certificate, and the child carries the Father’s last name, an unmarried Father has no rights of custody, time-sharing or decision-making unless and until there is a written, signed Agreement between the parties and/or a Final Judgment of Paternity signed by a Judge. An unmarried Father who signs the birth certificate just signed up to be financially obligated to the child, but receives no rights in return.
What does this mean? It means that when the couple is unmarried, and they break up, the Mother can refuse to allow the Father to see the child, she can make all of the decisions without any input or contact with the Father, she can move anywhere in the world with the child that she wants without the Father’s permission, and there is nothing the Father can do about it. The police can’t help, unless you have that Court Order or signed Agreement.
The moment you know you are going to be a Father, there are several legal steps you can take to protect yourself and your parental rights. Before the child is born, you can register at www.floridahealth.gov in the Florida Putative Father Registry. This prevents your unborn child’s Mother from placing the child for adoption without notifying you and giving you an opportunity to object to the adoption. Once the child is born, you can file a lawsuit to establish your legal rights. For more information on how to protect the parental rights of married and unmarried fathers, go to www.floridadivorcelaw.com.