Court Examines Step-Parent Timesharing Rights

Under Florida law, people who marry someone with a child will often embrace the role of being that child’s step-parent. Unless they formally adopt the child, though, they will not have any parental rights in the event of a divorce, as demonstrated in a recent Florida ruling. If you have questions about how you can protect your parental rights in a custody dispute, it is prudent to confer with a Miami child custody lawyer as soon as possible.

Factual and Procedural Background:

It is reported that the wife challenged a final judgment of dissolution of marriage that granted equal timesharing and shared parental responsibility of her minor child to the husband. The situation was complicated by the fact that the husband was not the biological or adoptive parent of the child, and there had been no finding of parental unfitness or harm to the child. The background of the case revealed that the wife initially identified her then-partner as the father of the minor child on the birth certificate. Later, the wife and the husband married, and during their marriage, she obtained a judgment disestablishing the putative father’s paternity of the minor child. However, the husband neither adopted the minor child nor sought to establish paternity.

Allegedly, in 2021, the husband filed a petition to dissolve the marriage and asserted that there were three minor children born to the parties, including the minor child. He sought equal timesharing and shared parental responsibility. The husband identified himself as the “father” of the minor child in an affidavit and mentioned that paternity had been disestablished in 2018. The trial court conducted a hearing and ultimately rendered a judgment granting equal timesharing and shared parental responsibility. The wife appealed this decision.

Step-Parent Timesharing Rights in Florida Divorce Actions

On appeal, the court noted that under Florida law, the courts have consistently held that statutory provisions concerning timesharing and parental responsibility pertain exclusively to parents and do not extend to nonparents, regardless of the circumstances. Quoting previous decisions, the court emphasized that visitation and custody rights could not be awarded to nonparents based solely on the best interest of the child.

The court further discussed three significant Florida Supreme Court cases that solidified this principle. Applying these precedents to the present case, the court found that neither the common law presumption of legitimacy nor the statutory framework for paternity applied to the husband’s claim. The husband had not adopted the minor child or taken steps to establish paternity, and therefore, he had no legal parental status.

While factors like providing support and psychological paternity might be indicative of the child’s best interest, they could not override the fundamental parental rights. Thus, the court concluded that the trial court had erred in awarding shared parental responsibility and equal timesharing to the husband. As a result, the appellate court reversed the decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Contact a Skilled Miami Attorney

While step-parents play important parts in their step-children’s lives, absent adoption, they do not possess any parental rights. If you have questions with regard to a child custody dispute, it is wise to meet. The skilled Miami family law lawyers of the Law Offices of Sandy T. Fox, P.A. are adept at handling contentious family law disputes, and if you hire us, we will advocate zealously on your behalf. You can reach us through our online form or at 800-596-0579 to arrange a meeting.