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Deciding What to Do When You Are Potentially Separating as an Unmarried Parent


As attorneys who practice family law here in Florida, sometimes the questions we receive are not from those who have already made up their mind that they necessarily want to move forward with a particular path, such as divorce. Sometimes, for example, we are contacted by those who simply want to discuss precautionary issues with an attorney and ask us questions relating to concerns that they are having or plans they are considering taking; questions such as “what, if anything, should I have in place in case something goes wrong with my child’s parent in order to make sure that my child and I can relocate?”

There can, at times, be a number of difficult discussions that go along with questions like these, such as what circumstances have warranted someone coming into your office and having these concerns—i.e. are there any abuse or domestic violence issues going on, etc. Both child abuse and domestic violence are serious crimes and victims can suffer lifelong consequences as a result. It is therefore important for victims to take action right away with the assistance of an attorney if they are dealing with abuse or domestic violence. However, some simply want to be prepared so as to not be surprised if a certain event occurs; for example, if a relationship does not work out, and an individual wants to relocate out of state with their child, what a custody arrangement would look like, whether and how they should plan for that ahead of time, etc.

If A Couple Is Unmarried, The Mother Has Sole Legal & Physical Custody Until Paternity Is Established

First, it is important to know that, in most states, including Florida, if two parents are unmarried, the default is that the mother of the child has sole legal and physical custody rights over the child until the father officially establishes paternity (even if his name is on the birth certificate). In other words, the father has no legal rights to custody or time sharing until he does so. However, once paternity is established, parents do share these rights. This is contrary to children who are born to married couples, where the husband is presumed to be the father of the child.

Always Work with an Attorney as Early as Possible to Protect Yourself & Your Loved Ones

As a result, without a court order naming someone in particular as the legal guardian, the mother is the only legal guardian of the child, and the father can only exert rights over that child via a court order. However, even if you are the mother of the child, it is always wise to work with an attorney in order to ensure that you have taken all of the legal precautions necessary before relocating so that you do not potentially face sanctions or negative repercussions from the court, even if you are the custodial parent. Florida law treats custody similarly for both married and unmarried couples in terms of acting in the child’s best interests when it comes to custody and relocation decisions.

Few legal issues are more difficult than those involving child custody. If you are involved in a situation where you have questions or need a family lawyer, contact West Palm Beach family lawyer William Wallshein today to find out how we can help.





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