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Florida Custody & Visitation Laws for Unmarried Parents: A Guide

Tampa, Florida custody & visitation law firm and attorneys

When unmarried parents separate, it can be challenging to establish fair custody and visitation rights without legal assistance. The use of terms like physical and legal custody can lead to confusion and disputes, making it essential to have a clear framework. Additionally, the terms custody and visitation have been replaced with ‘timesharing,’ although custody and visitation are still commonly used when discussing a parent’s time with his or her child.  Therefore, in the following blog we will use custody, visitation and timesharing interchangeably.

In this article, we will delve into the essential custody considerations of which unmarried parents in Florida should be aware. We will provide practical guidance on how to secure your legal rights, ensuring the stability of your children during challenging transitions. Keep reading for vital information that every unmarried parent in Florida should have at their disposal.

If you need help navigating a custody issue, contact the Tampa attorneys of All Family Law Group, P.A. online or call 813-672-1900 for a free consultation. 

We are committed to providing you with the best representation possible. Se habla Español.

Let’s get started.

Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

When talking about Florida’s custody laws, it’s essential to understand these important terms: legal custody (or parental responsibility) and physical custody. These two aspects define the legal rights and responsibilities of parents towards their child and the allocation of physical time with their child

Legal custody or Parental Responsibility refers to the legal right and responsibility to make major decisions regarding a child’s welfare. This includes choices about education, such as which school a child attends, health care matters like approvals for medical treatment, and other substantial decisions around issues of religion, discipline, and more. Typically, an unmarried mother initially has sole legal custody until the father can establish paternity

Legal custody can be shared jointly by both parents, where they make these decisions together, or it can be granted solely to one parent, depending on the court’s determination of what is in the child’s best interests or what the parents agree upon. It is important to note that legal custody is separate from physical custody, which determines where the child primarily resides.

Physical custody, on the other hand, dictates the daily living arrangements and caretaking responsibilities for the child. It specifies details like where and with whom the child resides on a day-to-day basis and who cares for the child’s basic needs. While an unmarried mother has a strong presumption favoring her initial sole physical custody, unmarried fathers must take legal steps to petition for timesharing of their child.

Physical custody can be shared jointly by both parents through a time-sharing schedule that outlines when the child will be with each parent. Alternatively, one parent may be granted sole physical custody, meaning the child primarily resides with that parent, while the other parent may have visitation rights or time-sharing as determined by the court or agreed upon by the parties.

The allocation of physical custody is typically based on the best interests of the child, with the goal of ensuring their well-being and stability. Florida family courts may consider various factors when determining physical custody arrangements, including the child’s age, the parents’ ability to provide a safe and nurturing environment, and the child’s school and community ties, among other relevant factors.

Determining Custody for Unmarried Parents

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When unmarried parents in Florida have a child together, establishing legal and physical custody can become complicated without court-ordered arrangements.  It is also possible for the parents to come to an agreement without court intervention on the legal and physical custody of their children.

Florida law provides a framework to determine initial custody based on:

  • Establishing paternity: A new 2023 law now allows unwed fathers to simply file a DNA test with the state to acknowledge legal paternity without court proceedings. Essentially, they now have equal rights to the child if they have acknowledged paternity by being on the birth certificate or signing an Affidavit of Paternity.  However, either parent must file a petition with the court to establish the guidelines for the legal and physical custody of the child.  There must be an order entered by a judge which is enforceable by either party.
  • Evaluating the child’s best interests: Courts examine many factors related to the child’s wellbeing and needs to award custody and decision-making rights to one or both parents.
  • Presumption of shared parental responsibility: Florida favors joint decision-making between both parents whenever possible.

Presumption of Shared Parental Responsibility

Under Florida statutes, the courts assume that it is in the child’s best interests for both parents to share decision-making responsibilities for major issues like education, healthcare, religion, and general welfare. This legal presumption influences judges to award shared or joint legal custody when petitioning parents demonstrate the ability to cooperatively make major choices about raising their child together.

Unmarried parents who can agreeably make important decisions in their child’s interest also have a strong case for a shared legal custody arrangement in Florida. An expert Tampa child custody attorney can further explain how this presumption may impact your custody case.

Best Interests of the Child Standard

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When determining custody, Florida family courts prioritize upholding the best interests of the child above all else. Judges closely examine what custody and parenting time arrangement will be most beneficial, supportive, and least detrimental to the child’s physical safety and emotional wellbeing.

In assessing what best serves a child’s interests, courts consider a range of factors, including but not limited to:

  • The child’s emotional and physical health
  • The parents’ mental and physical health
  • Each parent’s ability to provide a stable and loving environment
  • The child’s attachments to school, home, and community

These factors are not an exhaustive or determinative list, but rather courts weigh each aspect based on the individual merits of the case.

Greyson’s Law and Its Impact on Custody Decisions

Florida recently implemented a law named Greyson’s Law that significantly impacts custody decisions for parents in the state, including unmarried parents. 

Greyson’s Law prioritizes the safety of children by mandating that courts consider incidences of domestic violence prior to establishing parental responsibility. Key changes to Florida’s custody laws include the fact that courts may now consider any evidence of domestic violence and not just a conviction, as well as the fact that any such evidence may shift the presumption from favoring shared parental responsibility to opposing it. 

If you think Greyson’s Law may have bearing on your custody case, representation by an experienced Tampa Bay family law attorney can be particularly crucial. 

Parenting Plans for Unmarried Parents

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A Parenting Plan is a formal legal document that spells out custody and decision-making details for raising a child when parents separate or were never married.

Parenting Plans typically contain provisions about:

  • Legal and physical custody arrangements
  • A timesharing schedule detailing when the child resides with each parent
  • Logistics like pick-up/drop-off locations and transportation duties
  • Holiday and vacation schedules
  • Outlining how major decisions will be mutually made
  • Child support issues
  • And more customized custody provisions

In Florida, the development of a parenting plan is mandatory regardless of whether the parents are married or not. The courts encourage both parents to collaborate on this and for the plan to serve the best interest of the child. 

If parents cannot reach an agreement, the courts will step in to create a plan. While making these plans, it’s beneficial for parents to consider their child’s age, needs, and best interests.


Navigating Florida’s custody laws for unmarried parents can be complex. Yet, it’s crucial to understand these laws to protect your parental rights and responsibilities when bringing a child into the world. 

Working with an experienced child custody attorney at All Family Law Group, P.A. can prove invaluable. 

Our lawyers have assisted thousands of clients since 1997 in understanding their rights and navigating custody issues. 

If you are dealing with a custody issue in Tampa, contact the Tampa custody attorneys of All Family Law Group, P.A. online or call 813-672-1900 for a free consultation. Se habla Español.

We are committed to providing you with the best representation possible.

All Family Law Group, P.A.
The law firm of All Family Law Group, P.A. provides legal services to the Florida cities including Tampa, Clearwater, Brandon, Riverview, Hyde Park, South Tampa, Ybor City, Northdale, Valrico, Gibsonton, Lithia, Mango, Palm River, Plant City, Seffner, Sun City Center, Wimauma, Apollo Beach, Ruskin, Temple Terrace, Carrollwood, Northdale, Westchase, Citrus Park, Town N Country, Thonotosassa, Lutz, Fish Hawk, New Tampa, St. Petersburg, Palm Harbor, MacDill Air Force Base and all of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco Counties. We will also represent DIVORCE clients in Polk, Hernando or Manatee Counties.

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