There are many persistent myths that surround family law in Florida. One common misconception is that only married fathers have the right to seek custody of or visitation with their minor children. This may lead to a lot of unmarried fathers failing to play as robust of a role in the life of their children as they want to.
If you never married the mother of your children and have since ended that relationship, you may think that your right to spend time with the children is wholly dependent on her permission. However, you have the right to see your kids and maintain a paternal bond with them regardless of the nature of your relationship with the mother.
If you are on the birth certificate, you can immediately seek visitation or custody
Every circumstance is unique, but there are certain basic rules that apply to unmarried fathers seeking visitation or custody rights. The first and most obvious issue is whether the mother of your children listed you on the birth certificate.
If you are listed on the birth certificate or if the mother has filled out government paperwork acknowledging you as the father, that should be sufficient evidence for you to establish paternal rights.
You can request a hearing with the courts and ask them to specifically allocate parental time to you. You may seek equally shared custody or court-ordered visitation to ensure that you don't miss out on important moments with your child. Depending on factors ranging from the needs of your child to your employment and housing situation, the courts will allocate time and responsibility to you.
The courts can also help you prove paternity when the mother won't cooperate
It is not uncommon for unmarried couples to fight substantially about their relationship and the children after a break up. If you were not initially listed on the birth certificate and the mother now denies you visitation, she likely won't be too keen to sign paperwork that would give you shared custody or visitation rights.
In that situation, you will have to go to the courts and ask them to verify your paternity. This will usually involve subpoenaing the genetic records of the children. The mother will have to present the children for testing, and the courts will then use the results of that genetic testing to affirm or deny paternity.
Just because you never got married doesn't mean that you can't be part of a family or have a role in the life of your child. It simply means that you may have to take a few extra steps, like establishing paternity, to preserve the important relationship you have with your children.