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What are The Child Custody Laws For Unmarried Parents in Florida?

Board Certified Boca Raton Child Support Lawyer

When a couple separates, it is never easy on a family. If children are involved, it’s important for parents to try to reach a compromise on child custody, visitation rights, and child support. However, achieving this level of compromise may be easier said than done for most people. Parents who are going through a divorce should always try to settle these matters outside of the courtroom. Florida family courts always encourage divorcing parents to agree to the terms and conditions of their divorce through mediation or other means. However, what if you’re unmarried? How are custody laws determined for unmarried parents? Can the mother keep the child away from the father in Florida? Does an unwed father have rights? In this article, we’ll answer these and other questions concerning custody laws for unmarried parents.

What Is Best For Divorcing Parents — And Their Children?

If the two divorcing parents can agree to some compromises, and if they can arrange for their own custody, support, and visitation agreements, a judge will sign off on the agreement in most cases, provided that it satisfies the child’s best interests. Florida, like other states, prefers joint or shared legal custody when possible after a divorce. That gives each parent equal authority over the decisions in the child’s life (such as schooling and medical care), and it also means that both parents are legally obligated to care for and support the child.


Actual physical custody of the child is typically also shared by both parents, with the child spending some days or weeks with one parent and other times with the other parent. In some states, a court will award both parents “joint legal custody” with the stipulation that one parent is the “primary physical custodian.” In other states, the court will give “primary” custody to one parent while the other parent receives “reasonable” visitation rights.

Generally, however, and beyond all of the legal terminology and the many quite minor legal differences among the states, what typically happens after a typical divorce is that the parent who is not the primary caretaker during the school week is granted weekends or other time with the child. This is unless there is strong evidence that such an arrangement would be detrimental to the child’s best interests.

Adhering To The Visitation Arrangement

Divorced parents must adhere to the visitation arrangement that they have agreed upon or to the arrangement that has been imposed by the court. However, when a non-custodial parent’s efforts to spend court-ordered visitation time with his or her child are blocked or frustrated by the custodial parent, the non-custodial parent will have to file a court action and request that a judge enforce the visitation order. In South Florida, non-custodial parents can obtain legal help by contacting an experienced Boca Raton family law attorney.

Child Support For Divorcing Couples

In every state, both legal parents are required by the law to support their children financially, regardless of whether or not the parents were married when the child was born, or whether or not they married at a later time. In most divorces with children, the court will order the noncustodial parent to contribute a specified amount of child support each month. A family law court can modify the monthly amount of child support if parental incomes or the needs of the children change.

The precise child support amount a court will order hinges on each parent’s assets, income, and the cost of housing, healthcare, and other necessary expenses including dental bills and school expenses. Each state has its own child support guidelines that are established by law. In your own state, an experienced family law attorney can probably give you a rough idea of the child support amount that the court will require.


When a Florida court issues a child support order or a visitation order, that order must be followed. If an ex-spouse fails to comply fully with a court order, the state of Florida provides a number of legal tools to persuade the parent into cooperating. Noncompliance can lead to stiff penalties in this state. If a parent doesn’t pay despite the ability to do so, that parent can face contempt of court or even criminal prosecution.

Florida Custody Laws For Unmarried Parents

  • All mothers instantly get parental rights to their children at birth.
  • Fathers are granted custody and visitation rights depending on a DNA paternity test.
  • Florida custody laws for unmarried parents state both parents share equal custody rights.
  • Unmarried child custody includes the parent’s right to decide things about the child’s life like education, religion, and medical care.
  • Both biological parents are given the legal term “parent.”
  • For joint custody, a parenting plan must be submitted to the court along with the proof paternity.
  • If a child is old enough, the Florida custody laws for unmarried parents take the child’s preference for where to live into account.

Who Gets Custody?

If both parents of a child are legally established, then unmarried parents will go through the same procedures to obtain custody, visitation rights, and child support as if they were married. They might go through something similar to mediation to discuss terms on schedules, finances, and living arrangements. However, if the child was born to the unwed mother without legally establishing paternity from the father, the mother will have sole custody of the child in the state of Florida.

Does an Unwed Father Have Visitation Rights?

A father that hasn’t legally established paternity to a child has no legal rights. Custody laws for unmarried couples in Florida state that the mother is the natural guardian. She has legal custody the second the child is born. A father can request visitation, but it will be completely up to the mother to decide if she wants the child to see the father. If the mother is concerned about the father refusing to give the child back after a visitation, she should proceed with caution. It’s always recommended for visitations to take place inside the mother’s home with supervision or a safe public place. This is especially true if it’s the first time that a father is meeting the child.

Can the Father or Another Relative Take the Child Away?

An unmarried mother who is the sole custodian of the child must remember that she is protected under the child custody laws for unmarried parents. No one, not even the natural father, can take the child without a court order and a legally established paternity test. If a relative of the father or the father has taken the child, it’s important to call law enforcement and the Department of Children and Families immediately.

What if the Parents Decide to Get Married?

Under Florida law, the father doesn’t need to have a paternity test in order to get married or be considered the legal parent of the child. If the couple does marry, the marriage along will legitimize the child. Both parents will have equal rights if they get married.

Why Does the Mother Get Sole Custody?

Some people find the custody laws for unmarried parents to be unfair or solely favoring the mother. Since the mother automatically gains sole custody when the child is born, many fathers find these laws to be unjust. The father has no legal right to visit with the child in these circumstances. However, this same law also prevents unwed mothers from filing for child support from fathers without a paternity test. It’s important to remember that there’s a balance to this system. If a father would like visitation rights, shared custody, or the ability to influence the child’s life at all, the father needs to take a paternity test. It’s the only way to resolve the issue and move forward with custody arrangements. Child custody lawyers will always recommend a paternity test to establish legal parenthood.

What Happens When Things Change?

No custody, support, or visitation agreement is necessarily permanent. As circumstances in a family’s life change, the agreements or court orders regarding custody, support, or visitation can be modified to reflect those changes. A job loss or an unexpected injury or illness, for example, may require a return to the court for a modification of the court’s orders. Parents can’t do this privately even if they are in agreement – the court must approve any changes to court orders. In South Florida, a Boca Raton family law attorney can assist parents who need to have court orders modified.


The key to success for parents in all of these situations is the best interests of the child. If both parents are sincerely committed to working in the child’s best interests,  most disputes and acrimony can be avoided. Remaining disagreements can usually be compromised or negotiated. If divorcing parents can cooperate and put their children first, they can almost always remain in charge of their family’s future. It is possible to avoid harsh orders from a judge.

For More Information on Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

If you have questions or concerns about your rights as an unmarried parent, it’s important to speak with a Boca Raton child custody attorney as soon as possible. Even if there are no conflicts or obstacles presenting themselves now, there could be in the future. A family law attorney can help you to provide proof of paternity, gain visitation rights, or establish joint custody. An attorney can also help you to protect your child from a parent that does not have their best interest in mind. Reach out to an experienced family attorney today.