A new Florida law effective as of July 1 gives fathers whose children were born out of wedlock equal parental rights in the Sunshine State.
The new law, Shared Parental Responsibility After the Establishment of Paternity, creates a procedure for unmarried fathers, with the mother’s consent, to establish paternity and then take part in the child’s life. After the mother and father sign paperwork acknowledging paternity, they would have an equal right to primary custody of the child and, as the noncustodial parent, to input on the child’s education, health care, religion, safety, and other issues.
If you have questions about child custody and how the new law affects your rights as an unwed parent, contact our experienced child custody lawyers at Florida Law Advisers for trusted guidance.
Previously, Florida law declared the biological mother to be the natural guardian of the child and granted her responsibility for all issues involving the child. To gain similar recognition, a father had to establish paternity and petition the court for the right to make decisions about raising the child or assume temporary custody, even if both he and the mother acknowledged his paternity.
“The mother of a child born out of wedlock and a father who has paternity established … are the natural guardians of the child and are entitled and subject to the rights and responsibilities of parents,” the text of the new statute declares.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law on June 9. The measure had bipartisan support, with Rep. Christopher Benjamin, D-Miami Gardens, acting as the prime sponsor and Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville, filing the companion bill.
Praise for New Law Granting Rights to Florida’s Unwed Fathers
“This law gives unwed biological fathers parental rights automatically,” says an opinion piece by The Miami Herald. “Without it, they often have to hire attorneys and spend a lot of time and money fighting for things like visitation rights and a say in medical care and schooling. It can be a long and expensive process that punishes those without the financial resources to fight for rights that will now be automatic, at least in Florida.”
The Florida Bar, the organization of all lawyers licensed by the Supreme Court of Florida to practice law in the state, has long supported broader rights for unwed fathers. A recent white paper published by the bar’s Family Law Section identified gaps in existing law concerning parental rights and responsibilities of unwed parents after the acknowledgment or establishment of paternity.
Speaking for the Bar, Jacksonville Magistrate Kristi Beth Luna told a Senate panel earlier this year that the Family Law Section supported the bill because it clarifies existing law and promotes better parenting. “This bill is good legislation, it is positive for families in Florida, for children in Florida, and for fathers in this state,” she said.
The Florida Department of Health says 46 percent of births in Florida in 2021 were to unwed mothers..
New Law Still Requires Parenting Plan from Unwed Parents
The new law makes it easier for an unwed father to claim paternity and obtain custody of his child. But the state of Florida still requires either of the unwed parents to gain approval before taking primary responsibility for their child’s upbringing.
Under Florida law, a child’s welfare and support is the responsibility of both parents, regardless of whether the parents were ever married. The new statute says that whether paternity is established as provided by the new statute or proceedings in the circuit court, unmarried parents must file a parenting plan with the court. This requirement is not a change in the law.
A parenting plan outlines the child custody arrangement between the two parents. The plan should include which parent will be primarily responsible for the child’s healthcare, schooling, religious education, and daily tasks and which parent will have custody on specific days. Once the court ratifies the parenting plan, it becomes a legally binding court order.
If a child’s parents are unable to come to an agreement, a Florida family law court will step in and dictate the terms of the parenting plan. The court will award custody and primary rights for decisions about the child’s welfare based on what a judge believes is the best interest of the child. In extreme cases, a judge may limit time with the other parent or require supervision if it serves the child’s best interests.
When there is a dispute between you and your child’s other parent, you’ll need an attorney to prove to the court that awarding you custody and/or approving your time-sharing parenting plan is in the best interest of the child.
The experienced child custody attorneys of Florida Law Advisers, P.A. in Tampa support the rights of unwed fathers in Florida and their closer contact with their children when it serves the child’s best interests. We are skilled legal advocates who understand what the courts consider when evaluating what’s in the best interest of a child of unwed parents. An experienced child custody attorney with Florida Law Advisers can help you draft a parenting plan and persuade the court that your plan is in the best interests of the child, whether you are the child’s father or mother.
Get in Touch with Our Experienced Child Custody Lawyers
If you are the unwed father of a child born in Florida, you now have equal rights to assume custody or to take part in raising your child. This will require you to file a parenting plan with Florida’s family law court and to show the court that your parenting plan serves the best interest of the child.
An experienced child custody attorney at Florida Law Advisers, P.A., in Tampa can help you claim your rights as an unwed parent. We understand how important child custody matters are to our clients and to their children. We also know what the courts require from a parenting plan. Contact us today for a free consultation about how we can help you and your child.