When an unmarried couple have a child together in the state of Florida, the mother retains legal custody of that child until paternity is established. Once the father of the child is legally determined, Florida Statute 61.13 stipulates that custody will be awarded according to the best interests of the child, not the rights of the individual parent.
If an unwed mother wishes to share custody of her child with the father or receive child support from him, the father's paternity must be established. To do this, the mother and father can voluntarily sign an affidavit of paternity at the hospital after the child's birth. They can also file the affidavit at a later date at the State Office of Vital Statistics. If one of the parents denies paternity, either parent can file a paternity suit. DNA testing will then determine the biological father of the child.
Best Interest of the Child
Under Florida law, the court cannot solely determine custody based on the age and gender of the child. The court must determine what is in the best interest of the child by considering the following factors: the parent's willingness to foster the child's relationship with the other parent; the relationship between each parent and the child; the ability of each parent to materially provide for the child, such as food, clothing, and medical care; the condition of the child's current living environment; the stability of each family; the morality of each parent; the psychological and physiological health of the parents; the child's performance at home, school, and within the community; the child's preference if the court decides the child is mature enough to offer his opinion; any evidence of domestic or child abuse; and any other factors specific to that child.
Denial of Visitation
If the court awards custody of the child to the mother and visitation rights to the father, the mother cannot refuse his visitation rights if he fails to pay child support. Likewise, if the mother denies visitation, the father cannot refuse to pay child support, despite the lack of visitation. If either of these situations arises, the parents need to approach the court for a resolution.