It is common for committed couples to choose to have children without marrying first. As many as 40 percent of modern children are born to parents who aren’t married. There is nothing wrong with choosing to not get married, even if you have children with your partner.

However, it is important to understand how you can protect your rights as a father if you aren’t married to the mother of your children. Protecting your relationship with your children should be your top priority when the relationship with the mother of your children changes or ends. Steps you take during or prior to that break-up will likely impact how difficult obtaining custody or visitation rights will be.

Ideally, your ex will agree that the children should see you

Regardless of the age of your children when you separate from their mother, it will benefit them to maintain a relationship with their father. Even after your relationship with the mother of your children ends, she should hopefully be willing to allow you either custodial time with the kids staying at your place or, at least, visitation every week.

As you work through the issues involved in ending a relationship, such as the logistics of one of you moving out, you should address the issue of spending time with your children early and frequently. An informal agreement can work so long as you both remain committed to focusing on the needs of your children.

If your ex starts to refuse you access to the children, you may have to take legal steps to protect or even establish your parental rights.

Establishing your legal rights as a parent

One of the most important considerations when determining what you need to do to assert your rights as a father is to assure your name is on the birth certificate. In Florida, it is common for hospitals to automatically place the name of a spouse as the father on a birth certificate.

For unmarried couples, the mother has to agree to include the father’s name on the birth certificate. If you listed your name on the birth certificate when your child was born, obtaining custody rights will be relatively straightforward. Even if your ex doesn’t want to work with you and refuses visitation, the courts will readily grant visitation or shared custody rights to the biological parent of a minor child.

If your name isn’t on the birth certificate, you may have to take additional steps before you can ask the courts to allocate parenting time to you. These will involve either you and the mother signing an affidavit or the courts ordering genetic testing to verify the paternity of your children.