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How Does Marriage Affect Parental Rights and Obligations?

These days, men and women are waiting longer to get married and cohabitation is on the rise. This trend also brings about a rise in the number of children being born to unmarried parents. These couples often break up, just as married couples do, and then questions arise as to the parental rights and responsibilities of each parent towards the children. How will time-sharing work, and who will have to pay child support?

It’s comforting to know that, in Florida, even if you were not married to the other parent of your child, you may have the same rights to your child as married parents do. However, mothers and fathers are treated differently from one another in an unmarried situation. If a child is born into a marriage, the husband (or man) is presumed to be the father of the child. However, when the parents are not married, no such presumption arises in Florida. While everyone knows who the mother is and she does not have to take any independent steps, the father has to establish his rights to the child through a paternity action when the parents are not married. If he does not, he has no legal rights to time-sharing or a parenting plan regarding his child and even has no legal rights to participate in the child’s life.

Paternity in Florida can be established in one of five ways:

  1. Marriage – the parents are married when the child is born.
  2. Acknowledgement of paternity – an unmarried couple can sign a document (a Paternity Acknowledgement) at the hospital or later.
  3. Genetic testing – the mother, the man believed to be the father, and the child all take a genetic test.
  4. Court order – a judge can establish paternity through a court order after hearing a case.
  5. Legitimization – the parents of the child can get married after the child’s birth and update the birth record.

When parents aren’t married, there are several reasons why it’s important to establish paternity. First, the child will receive support from the father and will benefit from having a father in his/her life. Second, the father is able to benefit from being a part of his child’s life. Third, establishing paternity allows the mother to receive financial support for her child because, without establishing paternity, she has no legal right to child support from the father if they are not married.

You can learn more about your rights as an unmarried parent by working with knowledgeable Pinellas County family law attorneys.

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