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What Rights Do Unwed Parents Have in Florida?

Veliz Katz Law Feb. 29, 2020

The number of unwed mothers giving birth to children in Florida has steadily increased since the 1970s. According to Florida Vital Statistics,

In general, the percent of live births to unwed Florida mothers had been steadily increasing, representing 15.0 percent of all births in 1970, 22.9 percent in 1980, 31.7 percent in 1990, 38.2 percent in 2000, and 46.9 percent in 2017. For white mothers, 41.9 percent of live births was to an unwed woman, while for nonwhite mothers this percentage was 59.2 percent.

Babies born to unwed parents are almost half of all live births in Florida. The presumption is: when a baby is born from a married mother, the spouse is the other parent. Their parental rights are understood at birth, and these rights include:

  • the right to physical custody, meaning the child lives with them unless there is a legal intervention due to something like child abuse;

  • the right to legal custody, meaning the parents have the most control over decisions made about their child's health, education, and religion;

  • the right to pass property to a child, meaning the child may have an inheritance; and

  • the right to receive property from the child, meaning in the event the child dies while with property, the parents inherit that property.

But do unwed parents have the same rights in Florida? Here's what you should know.

What Are the Parental Rights of An Unwed Parent in Florida?

Parents have rights to their child whether or not they were married to each other at the time the child was born in Florida. These rights are the same as those above. The thing about not being married, however, is that these rights may sometimes have to be fought for.

There can be many scenarios that could cause a father or mother of a child to fight for parental rights. For example,

  • the alleged father may argue he is not the father and may shirk his responsibilities as a father as well as ignore his rights to the child; or

  • the mother may argue the person who believes he is the father is actually not the father, and the mother can legally keep the child away from the alleged father until there is a court order stating otherwise.

When either of these or another scenario occurs, the alleged father, the mother, or the State of Florida can take the matter to court to determine paternity.

Once it is established who the father is, the father will have a right to be in the child's life, meaning the rights listed above (unless the father is abusive or otherwise potentially dangerous to the child).

The right to physical custody, however, will be limited. The mother and father will split parental time with the child. Depending on the facts and circumstances, the mother may or may not be the primary custodian.

Once paternity is determined, too, it is important to note that the father will have rights as well as responsibilities. For example, even in the father doesn't want to be in the child's life, the father may still have to pay child support.

What Should You Do in Florida if You Need to Establish Paternity for Parental Rights?

Times have changed and parents do not always marry today before a child is born. Even though you are not married, though, you still have rights to the child. In some instances, you may have to have paternity determined. If you are going to court in Orlando to establish paternity – whether you are the mother or the alleged father – a child custody attorney in Florida can guide you through the process and make sure paperwork is filed timely and nothing slips through the cracks.