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Divorced parents arguing about child custody with a child between them

How Do I Establish Child Custody If We Were Never Married?

Veliz Katz Law  Dec. 21, 2022

According to 2020 National Census data, 47.2% of children are born to unwed mothers in the state of Florida. This can make it complicated when trying to decide child custody when you’ve never been married to the other parent. There are a number of issues unwed parents may face when splitting up or navigating their co-parenting roles, and it’s essential you understand how state laws will affect how child support or parenting time is determined. 

If you’re concerned about your rights as a parent in a situation like this, reach out to Veliz Katz Law to speak with a family law attorney. Located in Orlando, Florida, David W. Veliz and his team can represent clients throughout Central Florida, including Kissimmee, Winter Park, and Maitland. 

Custody of Child Born to an Unwed Mother  

Each state sets their own laws on the legal status of a child born to an unwed mother. In Florida, the mother is considered the natural guardian of a child born out of wedlock and is automatically granted sole custody. This is true even if the father is named on the birth certificate. This right of custody also means that the mother gets to decide whether or not the father will have visitation rights with the child. If the mother decides not to grant these rights, only a court order can override this. While this may seem unfair to a father who wants to play a meaningful role in their child’s life, it’s important that you never violate state law. The best way to go about establishing paternity or seeking shared custody of a child born to an unwed mother is to work with a local child custody lawyer

Establishing Paternity  

Often, one of the first things you should do when seeking visitation or custody rights for your child is establishing paternity. If you’re married to the mother when the child is born, paternity is automatically assumed; however, when you’re unwed, you’ll have to take additional steps, and this can be done in one of a few ways. You and the mother may agree on paternity, in which case you can sign a “voluntary acknowledgment of paternity” in the hospital at the time of the birth. If you have not done this, either the mother or father can file a petition to the court to establish paternity, or this can be done with the aid of legal representation or the Florida Department of Child Support Services. If paternity is established, you can then pursue your parental rights for custody and visitation. Additionally, you’ll be legally responsible for providing child support if it’s deemed necessary by the courts.  

At the federal level, parents are also protected by the Uniform Parentage Act (UPA) which sets common standards such as testing and going through the court system to establish paternity.  

Issues Unwed Parents May Face  

If you’re in a relationship with a co-parent but are unwed, there are several issues you’ll need to decide concerning your child. One of these will be determining what school your child will attend and where it will be located. This may be decided based on what parent the child spends more time with, but you may choose to enroll them in a school that lies in the non-custodial parent's district. You’ll also have to choose a last name for the child, whether this belongs to the mother or the father.  

One potentially impactful decision that has to be made is what parent will claim the child as dependent on their taxes since you won’t be filing jointly as a married couple. Claiming a dependent on your federal taxes can mean a significant tax break for one parent. In some cases, this may mean that both parents switch off from year to year to evenly distribute this benefit.  

If one parent marries another partner, there will also be issues to contend with about the stepparent’s role in the child’s life. In some situations, the new stepparent may wish to actually adopt their spouse’s child, which means the non-custodial parent relinquishes all rights to the child. Importantly, this kind of adoption almost always has to be consented to by both parents and only in extreme cases would a judge allow for stepparent adoption without the approval of both parents. This would generally mean that one parent has been abusive, neglectful, or absent from the child’s life. 

Veliz Katz Law: Skilled & Compassionate Counsel 

Raising children is never easy even under the best circumstances, but it can be made even more difficult if you were never legally married to the other parent. Because these issues can be so contentious and consequential, you need to have a skilled attorney working on your side to establish and ensure parental rights. If you’re in the Orlando, Florida area, call Veliz Katz Law today to schedule an appointment.