In Florida, when a child is born to unwed parents, it is presumed that the mother has all of the time-sharing (custody) and sole parental responsibility. Unlike the father who is married to the mother at the time of birth, an unwed father does not automatically get all the inherent rights to his child by virtue of being the biological father.

For the unwed father to establish rights such as a right to visitation or time-sharing as well as have a say in the legal decisions that concern his child, a paternity action seeking such relief must be initiated in the circuit court of the county where either the petitioner or respondent resides. Until paternity has been determined, the mother will continue to exercise all of the time-sharing and sole parental responsibility over the minor child.

It is best to initiate this action for paternity sooner than later. Apart from being able to establish your rights to your child and truly become part of your child’s life, an unwed father may also avert a significant child support arrearage if he pursues this paternity action during the child’s early years, while the child is only an infant or a toddler. Additionally, filing early is also in the child’s best interests as the child’s interest in stability and legitimacy would be met by such an early filing. A paternity action filed during early childhood would decrease the likelihood of a significant disruption in the child’s relationship with his or her father.

A paternity action must be pursued even where the father has a relationship with his child. For one thing the father must still legally establish his rights to and responsibilities for his child. Furthermore, a paternity action would also bestow a sense of legitimacy upon the child.

Where the father has not established any relationship with his child or the relationship is tenuous, at best, filing early is just a must. A paternity action will not only legitimize the father’s relationship with his child and establish his parental rights and responsibilities but would also provide the father with a priceless opportunity – a chance to form a real bond with his child that would last a lifetime.

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