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An Unwed Father’s Rights to His Child


The birth of a new baby is a cause for celebration for most couples, with both parents present, invested, and engaged in the new child’s life. For unmarried fathers, this celebration may be short-lived, or may not occur at all because under Florida paternity law, the unmarried father has no official right to see or make decisions for his child. Further, some mothers, some for legitimate reasons, decide to either not inform the likely father of the pregnancy or birth, or move away without notice, preventing the father from knowing where his child is located. Despite societal stereotypes, many unwed fathers want an active role in their child’s life, and the type of situation described above is truly agonizing for these men. A young Florida father faced the loss of his son when the mother moved to Ohio before birth and did not list him on the birth certificate. The child was later removed from the mother’s care after suffering life-threatening injuries, and ultimately placed with the father after custody was established. Unmarried fathers can face a daunting task when trying to secure parental rights, and if the proper steps are not taken, they will not have the ability to access their child or learn vital information about his/her condition. Importantly, obtaining recognition as a legal father and gaining custody rights are not mutually exclusive, and a discussion of how to secure parenting time and decision-making authority for unmarried fathers will follow below.

Putative Father Registry

Mothers are automatically granted full parental rights since they give birth to the child, and thus, a biological connection is easily proven. The conundrum unwed fathers sometimes confront is the fact that the mother can place the child for adoption without their knowledge and consent. Once an adoption is finalized, the biological parents have forever lost their parental rights, and unwed fathers could have their rights terminated before they even knew a child existed. To avoid this unfair outcome, Florida offers unmarried fathers the ability to add their name to the State Putative Father Registry, which gives them the right to notice and consent before an adoption is completed. Unmarried fathers can register their names before the child is born, but not after a petition to terminate parental rights has been filed. Consequently, any man who suspects or knows his partner is pregnant should register on this list to preserve his right to formally establish parental rights before losing them forever.

Financial Obligation vs. Parental Rights

For unmarried couples in happy relationships, filing an Acknowledgement of Paternity at the hospital following the child’s birth understandably seems sufficient to gain all rights to the child. However, if the parents later separate, there is no legal mechanism to stop the mother from leaving the State or otherwise blocking access to the father. The Acknowledgement of Paternity merely presumes the man is the child’s father and obligates him to provide child support until the child becomes a legal adult. If the man wants fully enforceable rights to parenting time and decision-making authority, only a court can grant these powers by confirming the father’s paternity. This requires filing a petition of paternity and proving paternity through evidence about the intimate nature of the parent’s relationship and/or genetic testing. Without this court order, the man is at the mercy of the mother in terms of when he may see the child and obtain information about the child’s welfare. Talking to an experienced family law attorney about one’s parental rights as an unmarried father is crucial to protecting the sustainability of the father/child relationship.

Contact an Orlando Family Lawyer

Parental rights are one of the most precious types of authority a person can hold. If you are unmarried and have questions about establishing or enforcing paternity, speak to the experienced attorneys at Orlando’s Donna Hung Law Group. We understand what is at stake for you and your child, and will work to get the result your family needs. Contact us at (407) 999-0099 for a consultation.