divorce couple sitting with attorney establishing custody and support

Unmarried Parents and Child Support: Establishing Paternity and Financial Responsibility

Navigating child support and paternity issues can be particularly challenging for unmarried parents. At Orlando Family Team, we have helped clients throughout Central Florida cope with the complexities of such situations. Following is an overview of the critical aspects of establishing paternity, determining child custody and support, and understanding the responsibilities of an unwed father.

Establishing Paternity

Establishing paternity is the first step unmarried parents must take to secure the rights and responsibilities associated with child rearing. In Florida, there are several ways to establish paternity:

Voluntary acknowledgment in which both parents sign a voluntary acknowledgment form at the hospital or later.

Administrative or court order, employed in cases of dispute or uncertainty, in which paternity is determined by the court, most often through genetic testing.

Legitimation process which occurs when parents marry after the child’s birth and update the birth record to show parental standing for both parents.

Establishing paternity is crucial since it affects child support, custody decisions, and the child’s legal rights to inheritance and access to medical history.

How Child Custody Is Determined

In Florida, child custody is determined based on the best interests of the child. The court considers various factors, including:

  • The health and safety of the child
  • The emotional and developmental needs of the child
  • The capability of each parent to meet these needs
  • The child’s preference (if the child is of sufficient age and maturity)

For unmarried parents, establishing legal paternity is a prerequisite to seeking custody or parenting time (visitation).

How Child Support Is Determined

Child support in Florida is determined using the Income Shares Model, which considers the income of both parents. Key factors include:

  • Each parent’s income
  • The number of children each parent has
  • Health insurance and medical expenses
  • The child’s living arrangements and time-sharing schedule

In determining child support, the courts strive to make certain that the child receives the same proportion of parental income that they would have received if the parents were married and  lived together.

Responsibilities of an Unwed Father

Once paternity is established, unwed fathers in Florida have the same legal responsibilities as married fathers. These responsibilities include:

  • Providing financial support for the child
  • Sharing in parenting responsibilities
  • Upholding the child’s right to access medical and family history

It’s important to recognize that paternity must be established for unwed fathers to both gain legal rights towards their child and to be held responsible for the child’s support and upbringing.

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to the right to make significant decisions about the child’s life regarding such matters as education, healthcare, and religious upbringing. In Florida, legal custody can be either sole or shared: In sole legal custody, one parent has the exclusive right to make major decisions. In shared legal custody, both parents retain the right to make major decisions. For unmarried parents, legal custody issues are often linked to issues of paternity and child support.

Paternal Parenting Time

For most unmarried fathers, gaining parenting time is a priority, establishing their ability to have a close relationship with their child. Parenting time allows the father and child to bond, and gives the father the opportunity to contribute to his child’s emotional and social development. Over the years, Florida courts have increasingly opted for both parents to play an active role in their child’s life.

Are You an Unwed Parent? Contact Orlando Family Team for Guidance and Support

Our experienced family law attorneys have extensive experience helping parents navigate unmarried parenthood. Contact us to establish paternity and ensure that both parents maintain an appropriate role in their child’s life. We understand that every situation is unique and will help you deal with yours in the way that best serves your child’s needs and your own. Contact us now for the compassion and professionalism your case deserves.

About the Author
Andrew Nickolaou, Esq., B.C.S., is a founding partner at Bernal-Mora & Nickolaou, P.A. He practices almost exclusively in divorce, marital and family law. Andrew and his partner, Ophelia Bernal-Mora, Esq., B.C.S., joined forces in March 2016 to form the unique and boutique husband and wife family law team at Bernal-Mora & Nickolaou, P.A. Together, Andrew and Ophelia take a practical and team-based approach to all of their cases and clients to deliver the highest quality experience and representation.
Andrew Nickolaou

Andrew Nickolaou, Esq., B.C.S., is a founding partner at Bernal-Mora & Nickolaou, P.A. He practices almost exclusively in divorce, marital and family law. Andrew also handles record expungements and sealings. If you have questions about this article, contact Andrew today by clicking here.