When married couples who have children make the decision to end their union, they’ll usually determine they need a divorce lawyer to navigate the process and ensure their rights are protected. But if you and your former partner were never legally married, you might think you have virtually no protections during this time. While you may have more limited rights when it comes to property, the good news is that Florida law does provide protection for couples who are not married but who share children.
In Florida, the mother retains parental responsibilities for her children. However, the father will not automatically be granted parental rights if he was not present to sign the birth certificate or if he and the mother of his children were never married. While having the name of the father on a child’s birth certificate can help to ensure financial support will be paid, many times, a father will need to establish paternity either by agreement or through DNA testing. Then, the father can use these results to petition for parental responsibilities and time-sharing.
Once paternity has been definitively determined, co-parents can work together to create what’s known as a ‘parenting plan’ or a ‘time-sharing plan.’ This plan should outline how each parent plans to provide childcare, as well as their wishes for their child’s well-being. This plan will then be presented to a judge. In many cases, a shared parental responsibility plan will be put into place (in other states, this might be referred to as ‘joint custody’). This will allow both parents to have an equal say in their child’s welfare and makes them make decisions together pertaining to their child’s healthcare, education, housing, religious upbringing, and more.
The judge will also determine what used to be known as “visitation,” but is now known as “time-sharing”. This refers to the number of overnight visits a child has with each parent. In most cases, parents will share time, but how the split is determined varies. Around 22% of fathers see their children more than once a week when they live separately from their children. However, time-sharing issues can be swayed if there is a history of drug abuse, domestic violence, criminal behavior, or mental health issues with either parent. In general, the gender of each parent does not play a factor in these decisions. Time-sharing is considered to be separate from child support; in other words, you’ll still need to pay financial support regardless of how often you physically spend time with your child.
Although you may not think you need a divorce lawyer if you and your partner were never technically married, the reality is that, even if divorce papers don’t need to be filed, your rights still need to be protected. If this scenario hits close to home you should ask a family lawyer for help, to assist you in constructing a child care plan or to protect your rights in a court of law.
When you need a divorce lawyer or family lawyer, we are here to help. For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact us today.