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How Does Being Unmarried Change My Legal Obligations and Rights?

Although a child’s parents are obligated to financially support that child (regardless of whether they are married or not), unmarried parents do not share in some of the automatic legal protection that comes with marriage. If you are an unmarried parent, it is crucial to understand both your rights and obligations, as sometimes people make assumptions that these issues are decided similarly for both married and unmarried parents.

Presumption of Paternity

When a child is born out of wedlock, paternity is not assumed. Paternity can either be established voluntarily by the father or through DNA/genetic testing. Fathers must fill out the relevant information with the Florida Putative Father Registry in order to commence an action establishing their rights.

Child Support Obligations

Regardless of marital status, noncustodial parents are obligated to pay child support payments until their child turns 18.

In Florida, child support amounts are based on a legal guideline chart that takes into account the income of the parents and the total number of children. The guidelines weigh the following factors:

  • The income and earning capacity of each parent;
  • The child’s health care and child care costs; and
  • The standard needs for the child based on the child’s age and the parents’ income.

Visitation or “Time-Sharing”

The courts also determine time-sharing with each parent, either based on a parenting plan that the parents have put together and/or in accordance with the best interests of the child (and in accordance with the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act). Parenting plans must describe, at a minimum, how the parents will share and be responsible for the daily tasks associated with the upbringing of the child, including who will be responsible for the essentials such as health care, school registration, etc.

Florida law declares that it is the public policy of the state that each child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents. There is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or any particular time-sharing schedule when the parenting plan is created or modified by the courts. However, if the mother of the child contests the paternity of her child, the father may experience greater difficulty in establishing custody rights or visitation with his child.

The Importance of an Experienced Family Law Attorney

If you are dealing with certain rights and obligations that apply to unmarried parents, it is extremely helpful to have an attorney who understands how child support is calculated according to state legal requirements, as well as its relationship to child custody, relocation, and related issues. The Florida Department of Revenue has the ability to make child support determinations through an administrative proceeding or the courts, but an attorney can help ensure that child support payments are based on accurate reflections of parents’ incomes.

At Sandra Bonfiglio, P.A., we provide mothers and fathers with legal support and guidance during custody proceedings, and also handle paternity matters on behalf of clients in Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton. Whether you are seeking custody, shared parenting time, or if you are having child support issues, you can trust that we will aggressively stand up for your rights as a parent.

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