Father’s Rights in Florida
The issue of father’s rights is one that has plagued many states for decades. Fortunately, Florida has, in recent years, began a shift towards equal parenting rights for both mothers and fathers. No longer does the court only recognize the mother as being the best caregiver for the child, based simply on her being the mother. Unfortunately, Florida law and the courts still have a long ways to go before father’s rights are truly equal across the proverbial board. In light of the recent changes and push for more rights, grassroots organizations have been established in Florida, such as Fathers Supporting Fathers of Florida, an organization aimed at promoting father’s rights, better laws and equality.
It is important for both fathers and mothers to be actively involved in the child’s life, if it is in the best interests of the child. When a father is unable to share rights, it also negatively affects the rights of the mother and child. Fatherhood is an important aspect of Florida family law, and unfortunately is one that many people do not understand.
Who is Legally a Father in Florida?
Many people confuse father’s rights and paternity, and reasonably so. What many people do not realize is that, without legally being a father, whether through marriage or proven paternity, father’s rights may be a moot point. According to Florida law, a legal father is someone either who is married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, or who has established legal paternity for the child after his or her birth. If either of these examples is established, then father’s rights become an issue in divorce. If either of these examples is not established, then the “father” involved in the case must either establish paternity, or he may not have any legal rights regarding the children.
It is important to realize that many “fathers” are unmarried partners of women who give birth to their children. In many cases, a lot of time, love, and expense goes toward the upbringing and care of the children, even though the legal system may not recognize the man as a legal father. Florida law and the Constitutional law system do have some guidelines for unmarried fathers.
Constitutional Rights - The Constitutional rights of unmarried fathers includes the right to children given up for adoption by the mother without the father’s consent. Unfortunately, there is little support for father’s rights on a national level, with most of the discretion as to father’s rights being left in the hands of the state. In recent years, the issue of father’s rights in cases where the mother wants an abortion has caused heated debate with little resolution.
State Rights - The definition of “father” varies somewhat from state to state. A few states have no formal definition of the term at all, while most states have similar, yet varying definitions depending on the father’s situation. In Florida, unmarried fathers are termed “putative fathers,” meaning that there is no established legal relationship, though biologically, the man claims to be, or is claimed to be, the father of a child born out of wedlock.
Although paternity is considered a separate element of family law, it is worth mentioning in the context of father’s rights. Since establishing paternity is often necessary so that Florida law will recognize a father and his rights, it is important for Florida fathers looking for guidance and support to understand the processes by which they can establish paternity. In Florida, there are several ways to establish paternity, including:
- Marriage - Marriage is the most common way to establish paternity. That is to say that a man is legally a child’s father when he is married to the mother when the child is born.
- Genetic Testing - Commonly known as paternity testing, genetic testing is one of the most reliable ways to prove or disprove biological fatherhood. After completing genetic testing, the court may issue an administrative order stating the individual is the father of the child.
- Court Order - A judge can process a court order establishing fatherhood through paternity. Like many other areas of family law, this court order will be presented to the judge for him or her to deliberate on and make a formal decision.
- Legitimation - Legitimation is the process for gaining legal fatherhood when the unmarried father and mother of the child marry after the child is born. In doing so, state law will presume the mother’s husband to be the father.
- Acknowledgement - For unmarried mothers, acknowledgement is a form of establishing paternity at the hospital or later. If done in the hospital, the mother and father will complete forms to acknowledge paternity. If done later, the mother and father will complete the paternity acknowledgement form and will then submit it to the Florida Department of Health for processing through the Florida Office of Vital Statistics.
Benefits of Fatherhood (Paternity)
For Florida fathers, fighting for legal rights is beneficial not only to them, but also to their children. Fathers may be able to secure additional financial support for the child, or can offer better insurance through their employers, both of which benefit the child. The father of the child may also have family that can offer additional love, support, and guidance for the child. In many cases, even unmarried couples build relationships with their partner’s family, which can be a valuable asset for the child or children involved.
For the father, being an active participant in the child’s life is invaluable. Most fathers also want to be involved in the important aspects of the child’s life, such as schooling, healthcare, and family. Fathers also have legal rights that offer them support in helping to provide and care for their children. When fathers have established paternity, they are able to petition the court for child custody, child support, visitation, or rights to be involved in legal decisions.
Even though there is skepticism over the strength of Florida law regarding father’s rights, there are attorneys available who are experienced in this particular area of family law.
Contact our experienced Gainesville Father's Rights Attorney today to set up a free consultation.