If you are an unmarried Florida father, you may feel that you have little, if any, chance of gaining custody of your children. Fortunately, such is not necessarily the case.
FindLaw explains that Florida does not discriminate between parents, married or unmarried. In fact, Florida laws offer specific protections for unmarried parents.
Before seeking custody of, or even visitation with, your children, however, you must establish your paternity. A mother’s parentage becomes established at a child’s birth, and Florida law presumes her husband or partner as the father. If unmarried, though, establishing your paternity becomes somewhat more difficult. Basically, you have two choices.
You and your child’s mother can sign a voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity in front of two witnesses or a notary public. You must then file it with the Florida Office of Vital Statistics.
If your child’s mother refuses to sign, or if she disputes your paternity, your other option consists of filing a Petition to Determine Paternity and for Related Relief with your local county court. In other words, you ask a judge to declare you the father of your child(ren). Keep in mind that the court will require you to undergo DNA testing to prove your paternity.
Once you establish your paternity, you can then ask the court to grant you custody of your child(ren). Be prepared to not only complete a parenting plan before appearing in front of the judge, but also to testify in court as to why the judge should grant you custody. The child(ren)’s mother will have the opportunity to dispute your custody claim with testimony of her own. Ultimately, the court will determine custody based on what it feels is in the best interests of your children.