Biological Parental Rights in Florida?
The dynamics of family structure in America have changed drastically over the past 50 years. Families can no longer be assumed to contain married heterosexual couples with children solely from that union. Families are now blended, include many unmarried couples, and children who are not directly related to one another. This transformation of the landscape of American life was not reflected in Florida child custody law. Common law and public policy favored legitimacy over the rights of the biological father if the mother was married to another man at the time of birth. This paradigm was further complicated by the fact that Florida would only recognize two parents per child as having any legal rights over their upbringing. Thus, unmarried biological fathers could easily find themselves cut off from their children, despite wanting an active part in the child’s life. A recent decision by the Florida Supreme Court looks to change this rigid structure and allow a biological father the chance to establish rights to see his child. A discussion of the Court’s decision, and how judges assess the best interests of the child, will follow below.
Court’s View of the Biological Father
Until this recent Court ruling was issued, if the mother and her husband objected to a parental rights’ claim by the biological father, that was the end of the matter, as the presumption of legitimacy was irrebuttable, leaving the biological father unable to sue for parenting time or decision-making authority. Of course, much of this law was established before accurate paternity testing was available, and the stigma associated with an illegitimate child outweighed the benefits of having the biological father in the child’s life. The Court agreed with the lower court’s analysis that this presumption has always been rebuttable, despite some courts using it as an absolute bar, and that a biological father can overcome this barrier by demonstrating “a substantial and continuing concern for the welfare of the children.” The father in this case, who did not know the mother was married during their time together, voluntarily paid child support, lived with the child for a period of time, and took the child to medical appointments and school. These actions show a continuing interest in the child, and serve as a template for the type of commitment courts will want to see before dismissing the husband’s claims. Once this compelling interest is demonstrated, the biological father must still show his claim is in the child’s best interests.
Best Interests of the Child
Any time a court must consider custody-related issues for a child, one standard must be applied to determine how to proceed – the best interests of the child. The name may indicate a simplistic evaluation, but this assessment is quite involved, and requires a judge look at all aspects of a child’s life – from the degree of cooperation between the parents to the logistics of awarding parenting time. The purpose is to find the arrangement that will best support the child’s physical, emotional, and psychological welfare, as well as the public policy of encouraging frequent contact between a child and both parents. The following are representative of the factors that tend to control how a court comes down in these cases:
- The ability of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close relationship between the child and other parent;
- The ability of each parent to put the needs of the child first;
- The stability of the child’s current home environment;
- The ability of each parent to provide the child with a consistent schedule; and
- The willingness of each parent to inform the other about the child, and adopt a unified front when dealing with the child.
Speak with a Family Law Attorney
Establishing child custody rights is rarely a simple endeavor, and an experienced family law attorney is needed to ensure the best possible outcome is within reach. The attorneys at All Family Law Group, P.A. are dedicated to helping clients resolve their family law issues, and can address your particular concerns. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay for a consultation at no charge. They can be reached at 813-672-1900.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+