When a child is conceived outside of marriage in Florida, the mother has automatic legal rights to that child, and, therefore, can make decisions about that child’s future without any interference. However, the same legal power is not given to biological fathers. A biological father must file his parenting intent with the state or a court of law in order to establish his paternity rights. Sadly, many unwed fathers are unaware of this fact until it is too late, putting them at a distinct legal disadvantage.
Without paternity, a biological father cannot object to his child being adopted and cannot be assigned custody of his child or even establish a parental relationship with his child.
In 2003, the state established the Florida Putative Father Registry, which gives potential fathers the opportunity to file a claim of paternity. The registry application can be submitted through the state’s department of health and requires a description of the man and woman as well as an estimated birth date of the child.
However, the problem is that some men may not even know about the pregnancy until after the fact, especially if they are no longer in a relationship with the mother and have not been told about the pregnancy. In such a case it may be impossible for fathers to register.
Even though unwed fathers may establish their legal paternal rights, the mother or adoption agency must ask the court to terminate the father’s rights. This can create a legal maze for birth fathers, especially if they were unaware of the fact that they were a father. Once a petition for ending a father’s rights is filed with the court, it can be extremely difficult for that father to keep those rights.
For unwed fathers who are aware of their future child, it is important for them to establish a clear paternal relationship in the following ways:
- Be declared as the father on the baby’s birth certificate
- Financially contribute to the pregnancy and birth of the child
- Keep records to prove financial involvement
- Send out birth announcements with paternal declaration
- Establish early legal rights such as support, custody, and visitation
The more involved a man is in the birth and care of the child, the stronger his paternal rights claims will be. Even men who live with the mother, but are not married can find their paternal rights in question if the mother decides to move one and put the child up for adoption.
According to national data, almost 50 percent of children are born out of marriage and the numbers have been steadily climbing. This indicates a distinct shift in the formation of the family, showing that the numbers of unwed fathers are also rising. As a result, it is likely that courts in Florida and across the country will see more birth fathers trying to fight for their paternal rights.
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