A breakup is rarely an easy process when there are children involved. There will likely be a lot of difficult emotions as well as formal arrangements to be made. This can be challenging enough when a couple has been married for the entirety of their children’s lives.
Unfortunately, if you and your former partner are not married, you may find additional legal hurdles to establish arrangements that are best for everyone involved. Too many fathers still find that the Florida court system favors mothers in custody cases, particularly when the parents are unmarried and there’s little official paperwork to support the consistent parent-child relationship the father has had thus far.
This is why it is so important to work with an experienced family law attorney from the outset, even when divorce is not a factor. They’ll be able to set you on a strong path to ensuring a fair division of custody and responsibilities with consideration to your circumstances.
That said, it’s worth gaining an understanding about what unmarried couples with children should do when splitting up. Let’s take a closer look at the issue.
If your split is relatively amicable, you and your ex might reach positive agreement on all matters without much difficulty. Nevertheless, custody cases can be particularly complex with unmarried couples. No matter what the situation is, you should take the time to collect documentation on all elements surrounding your relationship, your children, and your property. Wherever possible, file these with an experienced family law attorney to ensure they’re officially recorded should you need to argue your case in court.
This should include any bank statements and invoices that demonstrate what the financial division of responsibilities has been throughout the course of your relationship. This might include the payments you’ve each made related to medical insurance, school fees, and even household expenses. Importantly, it provides a form of evidence to the court to show you have been voluntarily financially contributing to the care of your shared children prior to any custody case.
It’s also wise to keep a record of all conversations and meetings you and your former partner have relating to your separation. This can include casual agreements between you and your ex about care for your children. In some instances, it’s wise to also document examples of your ex’s negative actions leading up to and during the split. For instance, if they’ve made threats regarding custody or displaying behavior that could amount to malicious parent syndrome. Having this information and any other supporting evidence — for example, text messages or social media posts — can be vital should you need to take the matter to court to fight for custody.
Establish Guardianship Rights
One of the difficulties you may face being an unmarried father is that you may not officially be recognized as a legal guardian of your children. After all, in Florida, your name is only automatically added to the birth records if you and the mother are married. The mother, on the other hand, can be assumed to take primary custody of the children without further documentation.
This may not be an issue if, at the time of birth, you and the mother voluntarily agreed to your name being on the birth certificate. If this isn’t the case, it’s best to set about recording your paternity, particularly if you and your ex disagree on certain aspects of custody and the case will need to go to court. You can do this by filing a voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity with the Florida Department of Revenue. However, if the mother is now disputing your fatherhood, you may need to petition for a paternity test.
Create a Legally-Binding Parenting Plan
As an unmarried couple, there can be relatively few automatic legal rights that you, as the father, have. Therefore, one of your most important first steps as a couple is to create a mutually agreed and fair parenting plan. This helps you to start out your post-separation parenting life with clarity and with consideration for your children’s well-being.
There are several areas that you and your partner should focus on when drafting your parenting plan. These include:
This is one of the main focuses for any parenting plan. You and your ex will need to agree to what you both consider to be a fair division of custody. Wherever possible, you should arrange for this time sharing element to be as detailed as possible, including the precise days and times for custody and who will transport the children between residences. If you’re both going to be living in different cities and states, the time sharing will likely outline the portions of the year the children will be residing with each parent.
There will be decisions in your children’s lives that should involve input from both parents. This can vary, depending on your family, but it may include where your children go to school, the extra-curricular activities they engage in, medical treatment, and even religious activities, among others. It’s important to detail the types of decisions that you both want to agree to make jointly. You should also confirm the processes for gaining consent and contesting decisions.
The Florida family law system sets out guidelines for the amount of child support to be paid. In most cases, the courts are unlikely to agree to waiving payments or making agreements for payments in the long-term that are lower than the state would assign. However, you may want your parenting plan to include a mutually-agreed higher amount of support. Your parenting plan may also need to include considerations for what additional payments each parent will need to pay or contribute to. This could include medical bills, education fees, and funding for hobbies and sports, among others.
It may be the case that you and your ex will be living in different cities or states after your split. Alternatively, your agreement may see one parent having a larger share of time with your kids than the other. In these instances, it’s important to also formalize what the schedule will be for communicating with the non-custodial parent between visitations or residence. This should include not just the frequency of contact but also preference for type of communication, for example, by phone, video call, or messaging.
There may be times that the details of your parenting plan will need to change. This could be short-term changes, such as changing visitation days as a result of an unavoidable appointment. There may be larger alterations, too. For instance, a drop or rise in income may mean that support payments should also adjust. Your plan should detail agreed processes for making these changes.
Remember, though, that your parenting plan shouldn’t just be a document you both casually agree upon. It’s in everyone’s best interest to ensure it’s legally-binding. Firstly, take your agreement to a family law attorney experienced in representing men in Florida. They’ll be able to highlight areas that haven’t been covered and alert you to any issues you may come across. From here, the agreement will need to be submitted to the courts. A judge will often agree to a plan if there is a clear sense of fairness and nothing that could be detrimental to the children’s welfare. They will then either approve the plan, making it legally-binding, or make recommendations for changes.
Call The Family Law Attorneys Men Trust (813) 415-3510
In Law We Trust Divorce and Family Lawyers is a premier firm of divorce lawyers representing men in family law proceedings. We have years of experience representing unmarried men who are seeking to gain fair and equitable custody arrangements. Our experience and skills help to guide our clients through the challenges of the Florida family law courts and reach outcomes that are positive for everyone involved. Call us today and get the proper representation men need and deserve.
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