As difficult as parenting issues can be for a divorcing couple, the issues can become even more tangled if the parents were never married. This may be especially true for unwed fathers. Many wrong assumptions can keep unwed dads from understanding their parental responsibilities and fully taking advantage of their rights as fathers.
Here are five top issues that fathers are often unaware of that affect child support and child custody in Orlando. Each point emphasizes how important it is for unwed fathers to establish their rights through the court – not only for the father’s benefit, but for the long-term benefit of the child.
1. The court decides who the legal father is.
Only the court can establish the legal father of a child. This may or may not be the biological father. A court-acknowledged paternity is what gives a person the parental legal rights to visitation, time-sharing, and other responsibilities with regard to the child.
This means that when a child is born to unmarried parents, the biological father’s signature on the birth certificate is not enough to enforce his parental rights. That signature on the birth certificate is a “presumption” that the signer is the father. To establish the legal rights of the father, a Petition to Establish Paternity must be filed with the court.
Another situation is when a child is born during marriage and the husband is not the biological father. In this case, the husband is still considered the child’s legal father under Florida law. The biological father can bring a paternity action to establish himself as the legal father.
It will be the court’s decision as to whether it is in the best interests of the child for the biological father to become the legal father, or for the non-biological father (the husband) to remain the legal father. An experienced father’s rights attorney can protect your rights as a dad by helping you build a strong case to show your commitment to parenting and ensure you are being treated fairly in court.
2. You may have to pay child support if the mother is receiving government assistance.
If the unwed mother of your child applies for Medicaid, Florida KidCare, food stamps, or another type of government assistance for the child, the State of Florida has the right to take legal action to establish paternity on behalf of the child.
The State does this from a monetary standpoint to find out who might be responsible for child support. Rather than the State paying this relief, the Department of Revenue will want to identify the father who is legally responsible for financial obligations of the child, such as food, clothing, and health insurance. Applications for food stamps and Medicaid require the mother to identify the father or list who the possible fathers may be. This identification generally triggers a paternity action.
3. Unofficial child custody agreements often turn out badly.
An unwed father and mother may have meant well by informally agreeing early on about custody and time sharing, even once paternity is legally established. What happens if the mother changes her mind? Florida courts cannot enforce informal time sharing agreements that were not ordered by the court. The father must seek to establish a parenting plan and only then can his rights to visitation be enforced.
4. Paying child support does not guarantee child custody in Orlando.
Fathers may be ordered to pay child support without the court granting time-sharing or visitation rights. Once a father has established paternity, his next step is to secure a court-ordered parenting plan to legally define his rights as a father to spend time with his child and to participate in parental responsibilities beyond child support.
A father needs to show that granting these parental rights is in the child’s best interests. It is important to consult with an experienced child support attorney to guide you through the process of securing a court-ordered parenting plan.
5. Payments made by a father before a court order for child support exists can be credited as child support.
Many fathers assist their child’s mother financially during the interim time when no court order exists for child support. In these cases, the court will consider all actual payments made by the child’s father to the mother for the benefit of the child throughout this retroactive period. Keeping accurate records of payments made to your child’s mother is strongly recommended to ensure that you receive credit.
Once a court issues the child support order, any payments made outside of the terms stated in the court order will most likely not be credited as a payment against the child support obligation. For example, if the court had ordered the father to make payments through the Department of Revenue and the father made a payment directly to the mother, the court may consider the money a gift and not credit the father with making a child support payment.
Trusted Help with Child Custody in Orlando
An unmarried father must be proactive and vigilant if he wants to protect his parent-child relationship. Our experienced child support attorneys at Kramer Law are here to help you do exactly that. Contact a father’s rights lawyer today and schedule a free consultation for a time that is convenient for you: Call 855-Kramer-Now (855-572-6376).