On behalf of The Law Office of Gustavo E. Frances, P.A.
Perhaps you never imagined the range of emotions you felt when you heard that you were going to be a father. The joy and excitement may have been tempered by the concern that the mother of the child may not be eager to allow you to participate in the child’s life as fully as you would like. Maybe you aren’t even sure what rights you have as an unmarried father.
Being a father offers many benefits and requires great responsibility. Statistics show that the parents of about 40 percent of all children in the country are unmarried. In many cases, children who grow up without a father suffer emotionally and socially. Your willingness to accept responsibility for your child may make a profound and positive difference in his or her future.
The legal complications of being an unmarried father
The law does not presume the paternity of an unmarried man. This means you have no legal rights until you definitively establish yourself as the father of the child. Depending on your circumstances, this could be very easy or extremely complicated.
The simplest way to establish paternity is to be with the mother when she delivers and to help her complete the birth certificate form. Of course, this is not always possible. If you can’t be at the hospital or if the mother contests your paternity, you will have to confirm it through other channels.
Becoming a dad – legally
Establishing paternity gives you a legal voice in many aspects of your child’s welfare, including:
- Decisions about the child’s well-being, including putting the child up for adoption
You should be prepared to take a paternity test, and you may have to ask the court to order the mother to cooperate.
Many states, including Florida, have established putative father registries. Fathers’ rights advocates encourage men to register as soon as they learn of a pregnancy in which they have a paternal interest. The registry will then notify you of any legal proceedings regarding the child.
Rights and responsibilities
Once you have established paternity, you will have to petition the courts for custody rights unless you and the child’s mother plan to raise the child together. Gaining custody as a single father may be a complicated effort, so having legal counsel is advisable. Many fathers prefer to ask for shared custody or simply visitation rights. If this can be arranged between you and the child’s mother before going to court, the results may be more positive.
Of course, establishing that you are the father of the child obliges you to contribute to the child’s financial support. Once the court determines your child support responsibility, the amount will be of primary importance. Even if the court does not grant you custody or visitation, you may still be required to pay child support.
An advocate through the legal process
Because the stages and requirements of establishing fatherhood are complex for an unmarried man, having an attorney to assist can prove invaluable. If tests successfully confirm your paternity, the next steps in the legal process will be crucial if you hope to build a relationship with your child.
Your lawyer will clarify the law for you and explain your role in the process. An attorney by your side will help protect your rights and guide you through the steps of custody and child support, representing your best interests to the court.