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What you need to know about custody rights of unmarried parents

Child custody can be a contentious issue for parents who are getting divorced. Child custody can also be an issue for parents who were never married.

What are the parental rights of unmarried parents?

Legal status of unmarried parents in Florida

When a married man and a woman have a biological child during the marriage, Florida law assumes that the man is the father of the child. However, when a biological child is born to an unmarried couple, the man must first establish paternity before he is legally considered the child’s father. Until that point, the mother of the child has sole legal and physical custody of the child.

Custody of the children of unmarried parents

A father who has not established the paternity of a child has no legal custody rights. However, if he can establish paternity, the court may award shared custody. An unmarried father who has shared custody of his child also shares the right to make decisions about the child’s life and is obligated to share financial responsibilities.

To establish joint custody, the parents must submit a parenting plan to the court and proof of paternity. If the child is old enough, the court may take the child’s wishes into account when determining where the child should live.

Once the parents establish legal paternity of the child, unmarried parents must go through the same process as married parents to establish custody, child support and visitation rights. Parents who disagree about schedules, living arrangements or finances may go through mediation.


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