What Are the Rights of Unmarried Fathers in Florida?

Under Florida law, unmarried fathers do not have automatic paternal rights. They must first establish legal paternity in court. After paternity has been established, both mother and father have equal rights and obligations.

An experienced family law attorney can help fathers with the following issues:

  1. Establishing paternity
  2. Creating a parenting plan
  3. Developing custody sharing.

What are the Rights of Unwed Mothers and Fathers

In Florida, the mother becomes the automatic legal guardian of any child born to her out of wedlock, and she will have automatic legal custody. Naming a father on a birth certificate is not sufficient to grant him any paternity rights, including visitation rights, unless the court has ordered same.

How to Establish Paternity

An unwed father must first establish paternity. According to Florida law, this can be done in the following ways.

  1. If the father and mother get married following the child’s birth, paternity has been legally established.
  2. Both the mother and the father need to sign a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity” form to be filed with the court claiming paternity for the father. This document can be revoked within 60 days of filing.
  3. The unwed father can petition the court and request that paternity be established, in which case a DNA test will be required.

Florida Child Custody Involving Unwed Fathers

According to Florida law, unmarried fathers will gain custody rights once paternity has been established. When making a child custody decision, the court will consider the following:

  1. The mental and physical well-being of both parents.
  2. The ability of both parents to provide the child with a consistent routine.
  3. History of substance abuse or violence on the part of either parent. If there is such a history, the child may be awarded to the parent without such a history, but the court may allow and approve contact with both parents.
  4. Even with clearly established paternity, the father has no right to take the child without returning the child on schedule. If he attempts to do so, the mother should contact the police.

Establishing a Parenting Plan

When parents are not married and/or not living together, the Florida court requires that each parent submit a parenting plan. This plan should include how both parents will handle the decisions and responsibility of child raising, which includes, but is not limited to, education, healthcare, and activities for the child. The plan will also spell out the amount of time the child will spend with each parent.

Legal Custody and Time-Sharing

Custody involves two separate factors. One is legal custody and the other is physical custody. In Florida, legal custody involves decision-making regarding the child, regardless of who has custody. For example, the non-custodial parent has a right to make decisions regarding a child’s medical treatment. Physical custody is the amount of time the child spends with each parent.

The majority of parents share legal custody, i.e., they need to make decisions together and agree on what is in the best interest of the child with regard to, for example, education and medical care. Physical custody, the time the child spends with each parent, can affect the amount of child support ordered by the court.

The parent with physical custody of the child is the parent that should be receiving child custody payments.

Contesting Paternity

It doesn’t happen often. However, there are instances when a man will contest paternity, which, if successful, will end any right and obligations he has to the child.


Most parents, whether they are married or not, want to be a part of their child’s life. This is certainly in the best interest of the child, who benefits from having both a mother and a father in its life. In the event of a paternity dispute, either party can contest the matter by hiring a family law attorney or filing his or her forms with the court. These forms are available online or at the library.

The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.

Have more questions? Let us know by sending an email to: questions@legallotus.legal and we will do our best to develop content to provide you with direction and insight!

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