Unmarried Couples and Custody

When you think of child custody cases, you might first think of parents who are getting divorced. However, there are many parents involved in custody matters who were never married. Custody is an important issue for unmarried couples, and there are a few things to consider.

When Custody Cases Arise

Some people might stay in a relationship for years without getting married. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins were together for over 20 years and had two children together and never married, while Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell have been in a committed yet non-married relationship since 1983 and share a son. Other parents might not stay in a relationship for long – or at all – after a child’s birth. When unmarried parents decide not to live together, they must decide how they will share custody of their children.

Establishing Paternity

Mothers automatically have parental rights when they have a child, though the same is not true for fathers. Marriage to the mother will establish paternal rights, though unmarried fathers must take additional steps to gain such rights. In order to gain shared custody of a child, an unmarried father must either:

  • Sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity form with the mother and file it with the State of Florida
  • Seek a court order establishing paternity

Once paternity is established, an unmarried father can then take part in a custody case.

Determining Custody of Unmarried Parents

If legal paternity is clear, a custody case between unmarried parents will be almost the same as a custody case when it is part of a divorce. There are two aspects of custody in Florida:

  • Time-sharing – This is the amount of time each parent will physically spend with the child
  • Decision-making – This is the ability of each parent to make important decisions for the child’s life, such as for their education, religion, healthcare, and daily care

The courts must determine custody based on what is in the best interests of the child, and Florida law presumes that it is in the best interests of the child for parents to share time-sharing and decision-making authority. This is because, when it is healthy and safe for the child, the law believes it is beneficial to maintain continuing and meaningful relationships with both parents.

Unmarried parents have the opportunity to agree on a custody arrangement that the court can review and approve. However, if the parents cannot agree on a schedule and parenting plan, the court will need to make the determination of how to divide custody for them. Parents should always have legal representation for a custody case, whether it is part of a divorce or not.

Contact a Tampa Child Custody Attorney for Assistance

The Law Office of Mark G. Rodriguez, P.A., represents parents in custody cases, including establishing paternity when necessary. Your custody rights are important, and your future relationship with your children can be on the line in a custody matter. Contact us online or call 813-227-9642 to schedule an appointment to discuss your rights and options.