Our history shows that children were once considered to be possessions of the father. Should a divorce occur (which was rare), the children were automatically “given” to the father. The societal pendulum then swung the other direction, when the “tender years” doctrine was introduced. According to the tender year’s doctrine, young children were always to remain with their mother, regardless of the individual circumstances.
The courts eventually figured out there were fundamental flaws inherent in both of these models, and switched to considering the best interests of the children when determining custody issues. Even under the “best interests” theory, primary custody was awarded to the primary caregiver, generally the mother. Father’s rights movements pushed back against the court’s determination of “primary caregiver,” under the concept that the parental roles prior to the divorce should not automatically qualify the mother as the parent to receive primary custody.
Changing Gender Roles Help Fathers Who Want to Remain in Their Child’s Life
In our current society, gender roles are ever-changing, and Florida divorce courts are coming into contact with greater numbers of fathers who desire an active role in the everyday lives of their children. In theory, at least, the system is now gender-neutral, although it makes a certain amount of sense for the primary caregiver of the children prior to the divorce to maintain that role after the divorce.
This does not mean, however, that fathers should be marginalized or only see their children on the occasional weekend. Judges are seeing more fathers who, although they may have a contentious relationship with their ex-wife, want to maintain a constant, healthy relationship with their children. In reality, when both parents work, sharing parental duties can truly result in what is best for the children.
That is, of course, when both parents are able to set aside their feelings for one another and their past, focusing on the children. The attorneys at The Family Law Place understand the issues you face as a Florida father going through a divorce. Adding custody issues to that mix can bring in additional levels of stress to your life. Our attorneys are highly skilled at constructing solutions to your parenting issues which will naturally include an ongoing relationship with your children.
What are Your Rights as a Florida Father?
Don’t be one of the fathers who gives up rights to their children under the assumption they will lose those rights in court anyhow. While the court will certainly take a look at the amount of parenting done by each parent prior to the divorce, few courts automatically award custody to the mother. While the mother could be the parent who typically handled more parenting responsibilities, it could also be the father. If both parents consistently split parental duties, the father theoretically will have the same opportunity as the mother to share custody.
Your Florida judge will attempt to ensure both father and mother will have frequent, continuous interactions with the children. Therefore, if both parents shared in taking the children to school, attending parent-teacher conferences, preparing meals, helping with homework, taking the children to doctor’s appointments and attending extracurricular activities, the court will want to maintain this level of interaction even after the divorce. Specifically, as a father, you have the following rights:
• You have an equal right as the children’s mother to have input regarding where your children will live and attend school.
• You have the same rights as your children’s mother to look at the medical and school records of your children.
• You have the right to spend time with your children, remaining an influence in their lives.
• You have the right to care for and love your children with no aggravation from the children’s mother.
• You have the same rights as the children’s mother to determine what religion your children will be exposed to.
• You have the right to make decisions regarding necessary medical treatments.
• You have the right to use your own beliefs regarding guidance and discipline for your children without constant interference from your children’s mother.
• You have the right to take part in extracurricular activities your children participate in.
Obviously, with these rights comes responsibility to your children. You must contribute financially to your children on a regular basis, and must always ensure they are properly fed, clothed and housed. You must ensure your children consistently have access to medical treatment when necessary as well as educational opportunities. As hard as it can be, following a divorce, you have the responsibility of encouraging a loving relationship between your children and their mother.
Paternity Issues in the State of Florida
As with most states, when a married couple have a baby, the legal presumption exists that the husband is the child’s father. When an unmarried woman has a baby, even when there is a long-term relationship between the woman and a specific man, there is no legal presumption that the man is the baby’s father. Clients who attempt to establish paternity as well as those who refute paternity, require help from an experienced Florida attorney. The unmarried mother of a child can file a paternity suit against the man she believes is the father of her child. A man who has a reasonable belief he is the father of a child may also bring a legal case to determine paternity.
The presumed father is the man who was married to the mother at the time of conception or birth, married the mother following the birth, agreeing his name would appear on the birth certificate or a man who welcomed a child into his home, presenting the child as his own. The acknowledged father is the biological father of a child born to unmarried parents who freely admits the child is his. An equitable father is neither the adoptive nor biological father, yet has a close, loving relationship with the child. Stepfathers usually fall under this category. An unwed father is biologically the child’s father, however if he chooses to retain his parental rights, he will be required to acknowledge paternity. In order to establish paternity, a paternity suit will be filed with the court which will include a DNA test. Should a man refuse the DNA test, the court will likely order him to do so.
If you want to pursue sole or joint parental custody of your children, if you need to establish paternity, or if you are the target of a paternity case, it is important to speak to an experienced, compassionate attorney from The Law Place who will fight hard for your rights as a father. Don’t simply give up custody without exploring all your options—you deserve to be a part of your children’s lives.
In addition to the basics of a Florida divorce, fathers should be mindful of the following issues that may arise prior to divorce. As with Mothers, if the father has the slightest belief that his wife/mother may take crucial financial documents and records in an attempt to gain a better divorce settlement, make copies of every important document and move those papers to a safe place or give them to your attorney if you have already retained one. Mortgage papers, bank statements, telephone records, property titles, loan information, debit card records, and records relating to expensive jewelry, artwork or furniture should all be moved to a safe location.
If you think your bank accounts could be cleaned out, go to the bank, divide joint accounts in half, and deposit your half in your own name. Make sure you keep careful records of these transactions. Also make sure the household bills are covered and that your children are taken care of financially, or you risk annoying a judge.
To avoid having joint credit cards maxed out before your divorce is final, close joint credit or loan accounts, and notify banks and credit card companies that you will no longer be responsible for charges made by your spouse. Do the right thing and let your wife know what you have done so she is not let in the grocery checkout line with no way to pay.
If your wife and children are covered on your health insurance you receive through your place of employment, don’t drop them form the policy until a judge says you can. If you are responsible for paying child support, you may be ordered to keep the children on your health insurance policy.
As you are probably aware, should you move out of the marital residence during the divorce, you will have to maintain two households which can be very expensive. Cancel anything which is not absolutely necessary, such as extra telephone lines or even satellite television. Do not, however, have the utilities cut off in the home where your wife and children live.
Make a careful inventory of everything in your home so that items don’t mysteriously disappear prior to the finalization of the divorce. Taking photographs or a videotape can be a good idea.
To avoid having joint credit cards maxed out before your divorce is final, close joint credit or loan accounts, and notify banks and credit card companies that you will no longer be responsible for charges made by your spouse. Do the right thing and let your wife know what you have done so she is not left in the grocery checkout line with no way to pay.
If your wife and children are covered on the health insurance you receive through your place of employment, don’t drop them from the policy until a judge says you can. If you are responsible for paying child support, you may be ordered to keep the children on your health insurance policy.
As you are probably aware, should you move out of the marital residence during the divorce, you will have to maintain two households which can be very expensive. Cancel anything which is not absolutely necessary, such as extra telephone lines or even satellite television. Do NOT, however have the utilities cut off in the home where your wife and children live.
If you have a retirement fund or pension, any of those funds contributed to during your marriage are marital assets and will be divided as such. You can, however, fill out the paperwork to have your employer stop the contributions to your 401(k) account until the divorce is final. Make a careful inventory of everything in your home so that items don’t mysteriously disappear prior to the finalization of the divorce. Taking photographs or a videotape can be a good idea.
If you and your wife have valuable collections, jewelry, artwork, firearms, cash or heirlooms in your home, remove them to a safe place. You are not trying to hide the assets—and will include them on the inventory—however this could prevent items you hold dear from being sold at a garage sale, out of spite.
If you don’t have one, go to the bank and get a safe deposit box. Finally, find a good divorce lawyer and set up an appointment immediately.
An attorney from The Family Law Place will meet with you and give you an idea of how the divorce will proceed. Our attorneys will counsel you not to sign anything before we review it and will advise you regarding any other matters of importance during this stressful time of your life.