Many couples have children before they’re married. Sometimes they remain a couple but never marry. Other times they go their separate ways. Yet others weren’t a couple to begin with, but when there’s a baby on the way, they both commit to raising the child.
Even when a mother acknowledges the paternity of a child or when DNA has proven it, fathers have traditionally still had to take extra steps, like going to court, to establish their rights and responsibilities to that child. This year, Florida made things a little less complicated for them.
What does the law change?
A new law took effect this summer that allows a man to have time sharing rights and parental responsibility as long as he and the mother of the child both sign a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity. He doesn’t have to go to court to obtain these rights.
Under the new law, the father, like the mother, is considered a “natural guardian” of the child. Specifically, according to a summary of the law, “an unwed mother and a father who has established paternity are the natural guardians of a child and, as such, have the rights and responsibilities associated with raising a child.”
How can the new law help unmarried mothers?
The new law has widely been touted as a win for unmarried fathers who want to be part of their children’s lives. It’s also a benefit to the mothers of these children because it saves on court costs and time that could be better spent on the child.
Further, by making the acknowledgement of paternity as easy as signing a form, more men are likely to do so. This means they can more easily be held responsible for sharing in the financial support of a child if they neglect that responsibility for any reason.
While this law has value in many situations, it isn’t going to prevent disputes about paternity that may require DNA testing. It also won’t prevent disagreements about parenting time and financial support if parents aren’t together.
If you and your child’s other parent can’t resolve these issues, it’s wise to seek legal guidance to protect your rights. Even if you do agree on them, it’s best to codify them to make them enforceable and limit confusion and conflict.