Your Legal Rights as an Unmarried Parent

What are my legal rights as an unmarried parent?

The mother is the natural guardian of a child born out of wedlock in Florida. A guardian is someone who has been entrusted by the law with the custody and control of another person. Legal custody of the child is automatically granted to the unwed mother. In the state of Florida, naming the father on a birth certificate does not confer any rights on him.

What happens if the mother and father marry?

There is no need to file a paternity action if unwed parents marry because the marriage will legitimize the child. The father will automatically become the legal father and will have the same parental rights as the mother.

Is the father entitled to visitation?

If the mother so desires, she may grant the father visitation rights. Visitation, on the other hand, is not required unless ordered by the court.

If visitation is permitted, the mother may impose reasonable restrictions on it. If the father refuses to return the child after visiting with the child, the police may not be able to help the mother get the child back, especially if the father is listed on the child’s birth certificate.

If you are concerned that the father will kidnap the child, we recommend that you impose reasonable visitation restrictions or even refuse to allow visitation until a court order is in place. Visitation, for example, may take place at the mother’s home or in a public place.

Who is responsible for paying child support?

Child support should be paid to the party who has physical custody of the child. To have the father named as the legal father, you must file a paternity action. In a paternity case, a parenting plan, timesharing, and child support can be ordered. Either parent may file for paternity, and either parent may seek primary custody of the child.

What if the child’s biological father or someone else tries to take the child?

If there is no court order naming someone else as the child’s legal guardian, the natural mother is the only legal guardian. The father cannot attempt to take the child unless a court order is obtained first. If the father tries to do so, the mother should contact the authorities. Anyone attempting to take the child without a court order can be charged with “interference with custody” under Florida law. However, it is important to remember that anyone attempting to take the child can defend himself/herself by claiming that they had a reasonable belief that the child’s welfare was in jeopardy.

If you suspect your child is in physical danger, you should contact the police or the Department of Children and Families to file a report.

What can be done if the child has already been taken by the father or someone else?

Make an immediate call to the police and file a report. A detective from the Sheriff’s Office’s Missing Persons Division may be assigned to investigate the case. If the police find the child but refuse to return him or her to you, you should file an action in Family Court right away to have the child returned to you.

What if I am not eligible for legal aid?

If you need assistance finding a private lawyer to take your case, the Lawyer Referral Service is a service provided by the Florida Bar.  They may be able to assist you. For $50, the Lawyer Referral Service can set up a 30-minute meeting with a lawyer. Costs for additional services will be negotiated with the lawyer. Appointments can be made by calling  (800) 342-8011.

If you are unable to afford an attorney, you may file your own case. On their website,, the Florida Supreme Court offers free family law forms and instructions. If you don’t have access to the internet at home, you can use the internet at your local public library.


Brandon Legal Group
1209 Lakeside Drive
Brandon FL, 33510
Phone: (813)-902-3576