Like most states in the U.S., Florida law automatically grants the mother sole custody of a child born outside of marriage. Even if his name is on the child’s birth certificate, an unmarried father must establish his paternity before the courts grant him any legal rights.

A father can establish paternity in two ways. The easiest method is to acknowledge paternity voluntarily. The Florida Department of Health provides access to the Acknowledgement of Paternity form online. Both he and the mother must sign the form in the presence of two witnesses or a notary public and mail it to the State Office of Vital Statistics. He is now the legal father of the child.

Sometimes, however, a mother will deny the father’s parentage. In these cases, a father can seek a court order to gain access to his rights. He must take a court-mandated DNA test to prove his biological paternity. Once paternity is established, the father has the right to seek custody and visitation and is now responsible for providing financial support.

The unmarried father’s rights are now equal to those of a divorced father. He can choose to seek either joint custody or visitation rights. FindLaw notes that Florida refers to these arrangements as “time-sharing.” If he seeks joint custody, he and the mother work out a plan for the child’s medical welfare, schooling and living arrangements with court approval. Alternatively, he may only seek visitation rights. In this situation, he and the mother create a court-accepted visitation schedule that works for both parents and is in the best interests of the child.

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