If you are a father of a child who was born outside of marriage, it is natural for you to be concerned about your child’s welfare and your custody rights. In particular, if you do not see the mother as a fit parent, you may be wondering if there are any circumstances in which a father can take a child away from his/her mother. Ultimately, a variety of complex factors must be taken into account when determining guardianship for a child of unmarried parents.
The most important thing that unmarried fathers need to be aware of is the fact that under Florida law the mother is the natural guardian of a child born outside of marriage. In fact, unless paternity is established, the father will not have rights to custody, and visitation will be at the discretion of the mother. Thusly, before a father can try to gain custody of a child, they must first file a Petition to Determine Paternity.
Once paternity is established, a father can then petition for custody, and a judge will rule in the best interests of the child to determine custody; Florida courts tend to favor joint custody with both parents raising the child together. However, there are some instances in which a father may be granted primary custody, or even sole custody, of a child. Here are just a few instances in which an unmarried father may be granted full custody of a child.
One of the most common reasons for a mother to lose custody of her child is if there have been instances of abuse. Allegations that a mother has abused a child physically, verbally, or sexually can cause a mother to lose all custody and visitation rights. Issues with domestic violence are treated similarly and can also be a reason for a child to be removed from a mother’s custody. However, it is important that you do not claim that the mother has abused you or your child if this is not the case, as lying about abuse can rebound on you and cause you to lose custody and visitation rights.
Substance abuse allegations will also be taken very seriously by the court during child custody hearings. Evidence that the mother has had issues with drugs and alcohol can make it more difficult for them to get custody, and charges such as reckless endangerment and DWIs can cause a child to be removed from a mother’s custody entirely. Even if the child was not in the car when the mother got caught driving under the influence, this can still be enough to grant a father sole custody.
Inability to Care for The Child
Of course, when determining custody the most important factor to the courts is the well-being of the child, and they will want to determine if both parents have the financial and mental stability to care for a child. If the mother does not have the resources to properly look after her child, or if the mother is not found to be fit to raise a child, then she likely will not be granted custody. A mother may also lose custody if there have been instances of neglect when the child was under her care.
Unfortunately, unmarried fathers are often at a disadvantage when trying to gain custody of their child(ren), as it is generally presumed that a child should remain with their mother. However, this does not mean that you as the father do not have rights and that you can’t get joint or sole custody of your child. Feel free to contact us to find out more about your rights as the father of a child born outside of marriage.