The new child custody law and time-sharing for unmarried parents in Florida are explained in this article.
In an ideal world, when an unmarried couple has a child, the name of the mother and the father are entered on the birth certificate, and automatically custody rights are awarded equally.
Whether or not a father's name is entered on the birth certificate, his rights and obligations for legal paternity must be legally established.
In Florida, paternity must be established by court order.
A DNA test may be ordered at the request of either the mother, the alleged father, or by the court.
With paternity legally established, then the unmarried biological father will enjoy all the legal rights entitled to him including custody and visitation rights.
Typically, problems surrounding child custody arise when an unmarried couple splits up or lives apart from each other.
Statistically, unmarried fathers battle for permanent custody or visitation rights, while mothers battle to get fathers to pay child support.
Ensuring a legal agreement in any situation requires a legal suit in the jurisdiction where the child lives.
According to Florida law, both biological parents have equal custody rights to the child.
This means that neither parent has the ability to deprive the other parent of physical custody or visitation without a court order.
In any child custody situation the primary concern of the court is not parental preference, but the court instead seeks to determine what is best for the child.
When a separated unmarried couple has a child, a parenting plan should be created and submitted along with a petition for paternity.
In fact, the state of Florida requires a parenting plan be submitted in all child custody cases.
In order to establish his custody rights, an unmarried biological father must use the Petition to Determine Paternity, form 12.983a.
Similarly, an unmarried mother should use the same form to establish legal paternity to the father. Instructions to this state the following:
This form should be used by a birth mother or father to ask the court to establish paternity, a time-sharing schedule, and/or child support of a minor child or children. This means that you are trying to legally establish who is the father of the child(ren).
With this petition, child support and time-sharing (custody & visitation) can be established and ordered by the court. This is done by filing a child support guidelines worksheet and a parenting plan.
A parenting plan is the legal document outlining all information about how both parents will continue to care for the child.
When filling out a parenting plan, it is best to hire an attorney or seek legal advice to make sure all issues are covered before filing the parenting plan at the proper county courthouse.
Due to the nature of the plan, it is important to create a detailed plan that focuses on the best interest of the child. For a court to approve the plan, it must meet the best interest criteria.
Overall, the plan should include how responsibility for the child and time spent with the child is divided. Both legal custody and physical custody should be addressed.
Legal unmarried child custody covers the parent’s rights to make decisions for and about their child.
These decisions include education, child care, religion, medical, and even extra-curricular activities.
Physical custody covers time physically spent with the child. Parents need to agree on where a child is to live and how much time will be spent with each parent.
In addition to legal and physical custody, parents have to decide whether sole or joint legal custody is the best option for a child.
Sole custody is where one parent makes all of the decisions, while joint custody is where both parents have a say in all of the legal issues associated with a child.
Finally, child support needs to be addressed if it will be applicable.
Once all of these decisions have been made, the parenting plan is filed in the appropriate county.
Before filing these documents it is critical to check with the county courthouse to see if any extra information is required.
If an agreement cannot be reached then both parents must go to court.
Custody hearing will take place and a judge will rule on all custody related issues surrounding the child.
Part of this process is often a custody evaluation.
This evaluation is a process in which a mental health professional will evaluate both parents in order to make a recommendation to the court.
The court considers not only statutory guidelines or laws, but leaves many considerations in the hands of the judge.
Additionally, a child’s wishes are considered if they are old enough to choose a parent to live with.
Other issues the court considers surrounds the environment the child will live in, health issues, special needs, which person would be a better parent, domestic violence, criminal records, and which parent has provided more support for the child.
New unmarried child custody laws became effective October 1, 2008. These new Florida custody laws define both biological parents as the legal term “parent.”
Previously, parents were termed custodial or non-custodial parents and there was a primary resident parent and a secondary resident parent.
This new law does away with those as current child development psychology teaches that any child should be raised by two parents.
Another term the new law does away with is the word visitation.
In place of visitation will be parenting plan or time sharing of the child.
Essentially, since history has shown that mothers generally get custody of their children, the Florida legislature is giving fathers an equal chance at custody of children.
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