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“But I’m on the Birth Certificate, so my rights to the child as the Dad are protected, right?”

PhilAs a family law attorney, I hear the above question in some form or fashion quite often, and the short answer is no. If you are not married, and you have a child as an unwed father, simply having your name on the child’s birth certificate as the biological father will not help you if your relationship with the mother goes south, and she plans on  leaving you and taking the child. You may be a great father, an involved parent with your child, and you may have been good at co-parenting with the child’s mother; however, until you are ‘legally adjudicated’ as the child’s father by the Court, your rights with respect to shared parental responsibility and time-sharing in the state of Florida as an unwed father are severely limited. So, what is a father to do? Make sure that you have a copy of the signed birth certificate, showing that you are the biological father of the child.  Have the mother sign with you what is called an Affidavit and Acknowledgment of Paternity, stating that you are the child’s father. You should also file with the State’s Putative Father Registry.  It is very important that you have a signed Paternity Agreement with the mother, outlining terms of shared parental responsibility and shared time-sharing with your child. It may sound like a strange document to create and sign with the mother when things are going well in the relationship, but it is prudent to try and establish such written terms early on after the child is born, in the event the mother tries to subsequently leave with the child.  This document should then be filed with the Court, along with a Petition to Establish Paternity and Other Relief, and seeking a Court Order/Judgment approving and incorporating the terms of the Agreement. If the mother is not willing to sign a consent Paternity Agreement, you should file directly with the Court a Petition to Establish Paternity and Other Relief, to establish your rights under Chapter 742 of the Florida Statutes.  For more information regarding your parental rights and responsibilities and procedures under Florida’s paternity law, please give us a call to schedule a consultation.