Unwed fathers may believe that it is unlikely or impossible to gain custody of their child when they were never married to the child’s mother. Fathers with this attitude should think again, as the courts and society have realized that fathers can be every bit as responsible as mothers in rearing a child. The court system may still have a few vestiges of what was known as “The tender years doctrine”. Such is the idea that a young child should primarily be cared for by their mother. However, most judges today that I have encountered no longer display any indication that this philosophy still exists. The reality is that a caring father can be every bit as nurturing and responsible as a caring mother.
In Florida, paternity is established by filing an action in the Circuit Court. The action is known as a paternity action. The petition should be titled a Petition for Paternity and Related Relief or a similar name. There is no legal presumption for or against a father obtaining what used to be called primary custody. The court’s have changed from using the term custody to using the term timesharing. It is supposed to promote the idea of the children being shared between parents. I personally do not believe that much has changed because of the change in terminology. That said, the law has changed regarding child support in that the non primary residential parent (the parent that has minority timesharing) can now receive a reduction in child support if he or she has the child for at least 20 percent of the overnights. The prior rule required the non majority parent to exercise at least 40 percent of the overnights to get a reduction in child support.
In a paternity suit, a father attempting to obtain timesharing must request either shared parental responsibility or sole parental responsibility. Sole parental responsibility is exactly what it sounds like and so is shared parental responsibility. Even people with serious criminal histories frequently are awarded shared parental responsibility. Florida has enumerated the factors that it considers important and that a judge must take into account in deciding custody issues between parents. They can be found in Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes. In short, they equate to the best interests of the child.
Each parent is placed in a position to prove that their idea of how custody should be shared or not shared is in the best interest of the child or children. A factor that I have seen judges focus on is: which parent is the most likely to share the child with the other parent and, which parent will promote a positive relationship between the child and the other parent. A custody evaluation is sometimes requested by one or both parents. The evaluator is frequently a psychologist or experienced family law attorney who meets with the child alone and with the child and each parent. The evaluator sometimes travels to each home to evaluate the living condition for a child or children. The evaluator recommends what he or she believes is the best timeharing arrangement. Custody evaluations are sometimes referred to as social evaluations.
Depending on the circumstances of the case and the evidence presented, the judge decides on the father’s petition. The father’s request for custody or visitation will either be granted, denied, or some compromise will be made between both parties. It is important to know there is no such thing as a “final decree” when it comes to child custody issues, there is always an opportunity to have child custody agreements modified or changed depending on the circumstances of the case. Although the legal system is frequently ineffective at responding quickly to family issues, there is no reason for an unwed father to be locked out of a child’s life if he does not wish to be.
About Neil Weinreb
Neil Weinreb is a practicing family law attorney in North Florida who works for the Law Office of David M. Goldman in Jacksonville, Florida. Mr. Weinreb has over 15-years of experience handling divorce, child custody, child support, and domestic violence matters in the courtroom. Attorney Neil Weinreb provides family law information to individuals enabling them to make informed decisions in their own circumstance. You can contact the Law Office of David M. Goldman for a free initial consultation today at (904) 685-1200.