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.
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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.