Father’s Child Custody Rights in Florida
It is a father’s right in Florida child custody cases to receive equal consideration. Florida custody laws require the family courts to presume that the child’s best interests are served by encouraging and facilitating a close and continuing relationship with both parents. Our child custody lawyers at the O’Mara Law Group are committed to protecting fathers’ custody rights.
Written and edited by our team of expert legal content writers and reviewed and approved by Attorney Mark O’Mara
Content last updated on: September 14, 2023
Custody disputes can be emotionally charged due to parents’ strong bonds with their children. Fathers often fear that they will lose their children because they are unaware of their child custody rights in Florida. Whether you are an unmarried biological father or a father undergoing a divorce, you have the same rights to custody as the mother.
If you are seeking custody or visitation of a child, the O’Mara Law Group can help. Our child custody attorneys are trusted divorce lawyers for fathers in Florida, and we are committed to preserving fathers’ ongoing relationships with their children.
Why Choose the O’Mara Law Group
The O’Mara Law Group was founded by Mark O’Mara, a nationally recognized family lawyer with over 35 years of experience standing up for fathers’ rights. As a Supreme Court-Certified Family Mediator and Civil Court Mediator, Mr. O’Mara knows what it takes to help parents negotiate a child custody arrangement that ensures fathers retain an active parenting role in their children’s lives.
Mark O’Mara has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers Association for his skill in the courtroom. That’s just one of the reasons you can count on the O’Mara Law Group to provide effective, vigorous advocacy when taking your custody battle to the courtroom.
Our team of experienced divorce lawyers at the O’Mara Law Group are among the top lawyers in the state, and we provide personalized service to each client. Among the many accomplishments of our family law lawyers are those of attorney Cathleen Winter, who has received the following accolades as a result of her outstanding advocacy for our clients:
- Exceptional and outstanding client service by the American Institute of Family Law Attorneys
- 10 Best Attorneys in Florida
- Super Lawyers Rising Star
- “Ones to Watch” by Best Lawyers
- Orlando Family Magazine’s Awesome Attorneys in Family Law
- Mark Rabinowitz has been Board Certified in Marital and Family Law in Florida since 1999. He has served on the Marital and Family Law Certification Committee of The Florida Bar, and has served as a member of the Family Law Rules Committee.
- Rose Marsh has been practicing Family Law in Orlando for over 31 years. She is a Florida Supreme Court Family Law Mediator and also practices Collaborative Law.
Our effectiveness is evident in the client feedback we regularly receive from our clients. Our unparalleled customer satisfaction has also won us recognition by the legal community, which has given Mark O’Mara a Martindale-Hubbell AV Preeminent rating, the highest rating available for professional excellence.
Working with a Father’s Rights Divorce Lawyer
When you retain the O’Mara Law Group, we will help you devise a custody arrangement that maximizes your time with your child. With your consent, we will attempt to reach an agreement with the mother. When this is impossible, we can present your case compellingly to persuade the court.
You can count on our attorneys to exhaust every avenue available to help you win your case. Depending on your circumstances, we provide the following services:
- Investigate the mother’s fitness as a parent
- Provide mediation services
- Report an abusive mother to Child Protective Services
- Persuade the court to order a psychological evaluation of the mother
- Help you enforce the custody arrangement ordered by the court
- File a petition for custody or custody modification
- Help you establish paternity
- Defend you against accusations by the mother
- Keep you informed of your legal rights
You can always trust us to maintain strict confidentiality and remain on your side throughout the process.
A Father’s Right to a Close and Continuing Relationship with the Child
According to Florida Statute § 61.13, the public policy of the state of Florida is to ensure that a minor child has frequent, continuing contact with both parents and to encourage both parents to maintain an active role in the upbringing of the child. The law prohibits the court from favoring one parent over the other.
The court’s primary consideration in custody matters is the child’s best interests, and the court may not discriminate against you based on your gender.
Custody determinations include two categories:
- Parental responsibility
- Parenting time
Parental responsibility is Florida’s term for legal custody, which refers to the decision-making authority on behalf of a minor child. The court awards this equally to both parents unless the court determines that shared parental responsibility would harm the child.
Parenting time is the state’s term for physical custody. The state uses the term time-sharing in lieu of visitation. Florida adopted this terminology to acknowledge the equality of both parents and eliminate the idea that one parent has custody and the other is merely a visitor with a minor role in the child’s life.
As a father, you have the right to pursue full custody, equal parenting time, or another schedule that provides you and your child the time you need to maintain your parent-child relationship. As your lawyer, we will fight to protect your rights and advise you of any actions you can take to protect your case.
How Courts Make Custody Decisions
The standard for ordering custody arrangements is the best interests of the child. This outweighs the preferences of the parents. If your preferences vary from how the court would normally rule, you must demonstrate that your preferences align with your child’s best interests.
This is why you need an experienced contested divorce lawyer on your side. Without an attorney, you may unknowingly make statements that harm your case, or you may respond to the mother in a manner that is viewed unfavorably by the court. Protecting your rights is as much about knowing what not to say as it is about knowing what to say.
The court strongly favors parental agreements and will order formal or informal dispute resolution if the parents cannot agree on their own. If you still cannot come to an agreement with the mother, the court will determine custody arrangements based on the following considerations:
- The physical, mental, and moral fitness of each parent
- Each parent’s willingness to share information and parenting responsibilities with the other.
- Each parent’s geographical location in relation to the child’s school and community
- Each parent’s track record and ability to be active in the child’s school and extracurricular activities
- The history of substance abuse, child abuse, or domestic violence of either parent and either parent’s record of misrepresenting such a history
- The reasonable preferences of the child, based on the child’s maturity and ability to express such a preference
You have the right to equal consideration of your wishes regarding parental responsibility. You may pursue sole parental responsibility in one or all aspects of the child’s life, such as education, health care, and other matters related to the child’s welfare. The court will divide these responsibilities based on its determination of the child’s best interest.
You have a right to request physical custody of your child, including full custody, equal parenting time, or a time-sharing schedule that gives you more time with your child than the traditional every-other-weekend schedule. To prevail, you must prove that your wishes represent the child’s best interests.
It is crucial that you work out an agreement with the mother to give yourself the best chance at receiving the parenting time you desire. Our custody lawyers are skilled negotiators, and even in emotionally charged divorces, we have successfully diffused the tension to a sufficient degree to facilitate reasonable discussions between parents.
However, if an agreement is not attainable, you must go against the mother in court. When both parents truly care and want the best for their children, this can create a tragic circumstance with you losing your say in how much time you spend with your child.
When tensions are high, and the parents’ wishes are vastly different, the court may order the Title IV-D Standard Parenting Plan, which is based on the traditional model of one parent receiving primary custody and the other receiving every-other-weekend visitation. If you are the non-custodial parent, this would reduce your visitation with your child to the following:
- Every other weekend
- A couple of hours one weekday evening
- Every other Thanksgiving and half of Christmas break
- Every other spring break
- Two weeks during the summer
Since the courts must give equal consideration to both parents for custody, you have as much right to be selected as the custodial parent as the mother. However, without an experienced attorney willing to fight for you, the risk is high that custody will be awarded to the mother. According to a 2020 United States Census Bureau report, only 20.1 percent of custodial parents are fathers.
Why Don’t the Florida Courts Award Equal Parenting Time in Contested Custody Cases?
Several states have transitioned to a rebuttable presumption that equal parenting time serves children’s best interests. Florida has not adopted this. However, a bill proposing such a presumption, HB 1301, was introduced in the Florida House on March 1, 2023. Its future is uncertain.
The state legislature passed a similar bill in 2016, but then-Governor Rick Scott vetoed it. He claimed it would direct courts to put the parents’ preferences ahead of a child’s best interests.
Research does not support Governor Scott’s argument. According to a detailed 2014 consensus report by Dr. Richard A. Warshak, which 110 researchers and practitioners endorsed, children are better served when they have more balanced and meaningful contact with both parents, such as would be afforded by equal parenting time.
How Fighting for Your Rights Benefits Your Child
Fighting for additional parenting time is more than a parental preference. The impact of remaining an active father in your child’s life would be hard to overestimate. According to the Family Youth and Community Sciences Extension of the University of Florida, children with fathers who are actively involved in their upbringing experience the following benefits:
- Improved cognitive development during infancy
- Better weight gain in preterm infants
- Higher toddler readiness for kindergarten
- Superior stress management and coping skills
- Reduced risk of dropping out of school
- Reduced participation in risky behaviors during adolescence
- Higher academic performance
- Stronger psychological security
- More positive relationships with peers
- Healthier emotional self-regulation
According to the research, when cooperative parenting occurs between both parents, sons are less likely to become aggressive toward women later in life, and daughters are less likely to be attracted to aggressive men as grown women, compared to their peers who lacked active paternal involvement.
Protect Your Rights by Establishing Paternity
You must establish paternity before you have the right to seek custody. Paternity is presumed if you and the mother were married on the date of the child’s birth and the father’s name is listed on the birth certificate.
If this is not the case, you can establish paternity by signing a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. The mother must also sign the acknowledgment. A notary public or two witnesses must witness both signatures.
Without a written acknowledgment of paternity, you must prove your paternity through genetic testing. This can be done voluntarily or by order of the court.
How Can a Father Get Full Custody?
Full custody, also known as sole custody, is rare in Florida. To be awarded full custody, you must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the child would be harmed if the mother shared custody. The court will need clear and convincing evidence that one or more of the following is true:
- The mother is morally, physically, or mentally unfit to care for the child.
- The mother engages in substance abuse.
- The mother has misrepresented a history of substance abuse.
- The mother has a history of abusing or abandoning the child.
- The mother has been convicted of domestic violence or sexual abuse of a minor.
- The mother is incarcerated and expected to remain so for the majority of the child’s childhood.
- The mother has had her parental rights terminated by the court at the request of the Department of Children and Families.
- The court has found any other evidence that the child would be harmed in a shared custody arrangement with the mother.
The court will consider evidence of domestic violence, whether or not a conviction occurred. Our full custody lawyers at the O’Mara Law Group can help you gather the evidence you need to satisfy the court.
A Father’s Right to Receive Court-Ordered Parenting Time
After a court orders a custody arrangement, you have a right to receive your full share of parenting time as specified. A mother who fails to make the child available for scheduled parenting time or show up for her scheduled parenting time can be held in contempt of court.
To initiate the contempt process, you must notify the court when the mother violates the parenting time order. The court may impose sanctions against the mother and order additional parenting time to compensate you and the child for the missed time.
A Father’s Right to Seek a Modification
You have the right to request a modification of the existing child custody order if you experience an unanticipated, material, and substantial change in circumstances. This could include one or more of the following:
- A mother’s failure to honor the parenting plan
- The child being subjected to child abuse while under the mother’s care
- A change in your work schedule
- Relocation of either parent
- A change in the child’s needs
When the court modifies the child custody arrangement, the change in circumstance may also warrant a change in the amount of child support being paid, whether you pay or receive it.
Resources for Fathers Going Through Divorce
The plight of fathers in child custody has gained recognition from fathers and advocacy groups nationwide. The following resources provide opportunities for fathers to unite and stay informed about the progress of the fight for fathers’ equality:
The O’Mara Law Group Fights for Fathers’ Rights
If you are a father facing a custody battle in Florida, you need the advocacy of a reputable law firm that supports your rights as a father. Our child custody lawyers understand how important your relationship with your child is, and you can count on us to fight for you to receive the outcome you and your children need and deserve. Contact us today for a confidential consultation.
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