An unmarried father has no legal rights to a child until paternity is established in a Paternity proceeding. Once Paternity is determined, by consent, genetic testing, or marriage to the mother, the father has custodial rights and the duty of support. Child custody and support are decided in much the same way as a divorce. The law on child custody and support in Paternity cases is found in the divorce statute.

Issues in a Paternity case are the custody of the child or children, child support, and attorney’s fees.

Child Custody. Florida no longer uses the word “custody” in its paternity law. Instead, Florida requires divorcing parents to agree on a Parenting Plan. The Plan addresses which parent is responsible for what aspect of the child’s life. Shared parental responsibility is presumed to be in the child’s best interest. The Parenting Plan must contain a Time Sharing Schedule. The schedule describes when the children are with their mother and when they are with their father. Parents have strong opinions about what serves the best interests of their children. Parenting issues are always the most difficult to resolve in divorce cases. Parents don’t always agree on child related issues. Doreen M. Varela will assist you in developing a Parenting Plan and a Time Sharing Schedule that works for you and your children and explain Florida law. A Judge must consider numerous factors when establishing a Parenting Plan and a Time Sharing Schedule in cases where the parents cannot agree.

Child Support. Once a Parenting Plan and containing a Time Sharing Schedule is established, child support is calculated. Child support is based on the parents’ combined income, the costs of child care and health insurance and the time sharing schedule. Doreen M. Varela will explain Florida’s Child Support Guidelines to you.

Administrative Support Orders. You may receive something in the mail from the Florida Department of Revenue. If you fail to respond appropriately, Paternity may be established and a support obligation imposed even though there is no court appearance. Many fathers ignore administrative support orders until its too late.

Attorney’s Fees. Either the mother or the father can ask for attorney’s fees and costs on a temporary or permanent basis. Attorney’s fees are awarded based on a number of factors, including need and ability to pay.



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