I receive questions on a daily basis from both men and women about their
legal rights to visitation and child support when they were never married
to their child’s mother or father. In most of these cases, the visitation
and child support has stopped and the parties are frustrated, to the point,
of seeking legal help. There is little incentive for the parties to cooperate
with each other and one of the parties wants to initiate court action.
These cases are known as paternity actions and make up a large number of
the overall cases the family courts deal with on a daily basis. Florida
law allows any woman who is pregnant or has a child or any man who has
reason to believe that he is the father of the child to bring a paternity
action to determine the father of the child. Testing may be necessary
to confirm the biological father. However, in most cases, the parties
are in agreement as to who is the father of the child.
Unlike a child born to a married couple, there is no presumption as to
who is the father and paternity must be established prior to dealing with
custody, visitation, or child support. A paternity action can address
the narrow issue of child support or fully encompass custody and visitation
now known as contact and time sharing under Florida law. The court’s
starting position is that the child has two parents and both should be
involved in the child’s daily life, equally support the child, and
put their differences aside to act in the best interest of the child.
Whether the parties are going through a divorce or paternity action, the
court uses the same factors in determining contact and time sharing. The
court reviews each parent’s pattern of conduct to determine which
parent will likely allow the child frequent and continuing contact with
other parent and the willingness and ability of each parent to facilitate
and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between
the child and other parent. In conclusion, when unmarried couples split
the first step is to establish who the father of the child is. Once the
father is legally established, he enjoys all of the same rights and responsibilities
as a married parent would.
Most parties to a paternity action are unfamiliar with the legal process
and fail to understand that starting an action in court can be complicated
and can require more than one court hearing to obtain a resolution. If
you have a need to file a paternity action, don’t go it alone. Contact
a lawyer. The attorneys at Longwell Lawyers can assist you in resolving
these issues and help alleviate the stress you may feel. No one should
have to appear in court unrepresented.