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: May 24, 2024

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.

  • 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.

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 Our Florida Father's Child Custody Rights Lawyers

When you retain the men’s divorce attorneys at O’Mara Law Group, we will help you devise a custody arrangement that maximizes your time with your child by reaching an agreement with your child’s mother. If an agreement cannot be reached, we are ready to present your case compellingly in court.

Our attorneys work tirelessly to protect fathers’ custody rights in Florida. Depending on your circumstances, we will provide the following legal services:

  • Investigate the other parent’s fitness to care for your child
  • Provide mediation services
  • Report maternal abuse to Child Protective Services
  • Persuade the presiding court to order a maternal psychological evaluation
  • Help you enforce court-ordered custody arrangements
  • File a petition for custody or custody modification
  • Help you establish paternity
  • Assist in proving parental alienation
  • Defend you against wrongful accusations by your child’s mother
  • Ensure you know your full legal rights and options

You can trust us to maintain strict confidentiality and handle your case with the utmost care, sensitivity, and attention it deserves. We will stand by you throughout the life of your case.

A Father’s Right to a Close and Continuing Relationship with the Child

Under Florida Statute § 61.13, the state’s public policy is to ensure that minor children have frequent, continuing contact with both parents, encouraging both parents to maintain an active role in the child’s upbringing. The law prohibits courts from unfairly favoring one parent over the other.

The first and foremost consideration in custody matters is the child’s best interests. However, courts may not discriminate against you based on your status as a mother or father. Custody arrangements involve two primary considerations:

  • Parental responsibility
  • Parenting time

Parental responsibility is Florida’s term for legal custody, which refers to decision-making authority over a child. Courts award this equally to both parents unless they determine that shared parental responsibility not appropriate, especially if it does not protect the child’s best interests.

Parenting time is the state’s term for physical custody. The state uses the term “time-sharing” in lieu of “visitation.” This terminology to acknowledges the equality of both parents and eliminate the idea that one parent has custody while the other is merely a visitor with a minor role in the child’s life.

Florida family law also features a rebuttable presumption that equal time-sharing is appropriate. If a parent lives more than 50 miles away from the child when time-sharing is decided and moves within 50 miles of the child after the decision has been made, they have the right to pursue modification of the time-sharing schedule.

As a father, you also have the right to request full custody, equal parenting time, or another arrangement that provides you and your child with the time you need to maintain your parent-child relationship. Our Orlando family lawyers will fight to protect your rights and work toward an arrangement that best serves your family’s needs.

Are Fathers Natural Guardians in Florida?

Before July 2023, unwed fathers in Florida had somewhat limited paternal rights. The legal process for establishing custody was heavily skewed in favor of unwed mothers. This changed with the passage of The Good Dad Act (SB 1146), which empowers fathers to cultivate deep, lasting bonds with their children more easily by clearing much of the red tape that existed previously. 

In effect, the new law balances the scales between unwed mothers and fathers in Florida. Courts must now recognize fathers as natural guardians with equal parental rights as soon as a child is born and paternity is confirmed.

What the Good Dad Act Means for Fathers' Parenting Time and Rights in Florida

Along with HB 1301, which created the rebuttable presumption that equal time-sharing is in the best interest of the child, the Good Dad Act substantially expanded parenting time and custody rights of fathers in Florida. Once paternity is established, fathers can now:

  • Petition for a determination of parental responsibility
  • Seek court-ordered child support
  • Request the creation of a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule

These bills constitute major victories for father’s rights advocates in Florida by giving fathers stronger legal grounds to assert their parental rights and stay actively involved in their children’s lives.

How Courts Make Custody Decisions

The strongest factor when determining custody arrangements is the best interests of the child, outweighing 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 if you have children with a separating spouse. Without an attorney, you may unknowingly make statements that harm your case and that are 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.

With fathers now recognized as natural guardians, the legal landscape has shifted somewhat in favor of unwed fathers seeking to establish relationships with their children. The court system is increasingly attentive to the rights and responsibilities of unmarried fathers in custody proceedings. This means that unwed fathers who wish to be involved in their children’s lives have a better chance of securing favorable custody arrangements.

The courts strongly favor mutually agreed upon parental agreements and will order formal or informal dispute resolution if the parents cannot agree on their own. If you cannot come to an agreement with your child’s mother, the court will determine custody arrangements based on the following considerations:

  • The child’s best interest. 
  • 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.

Parental Responsibility

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.

Parenting Time

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.

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.

Protecting Your Rights by Establishing Paternity

Confirming paternity gives married and unmarried fathers in Florida the legal standing to request parental responsibility, child support, and the creation of a parenting plan that fairly addresses time-sharing.

If you were married to your child’s mother when they were born and your name is on the birth certificate, paternity is presumed. Otherwise, a mother can establish paternity by signing a voluntary acknowledgment form, which must be notarized or witnessed by two people. In the absence of a signed voluntary acknowledgment, you may need to establish paternity through DNA testing.

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 and Custody Battles

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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