Paternity / Time Sharing Cases: What to Expect
When a relationship between two people ends, and those two people have children in common, it is not uncommon for a dispute regarding the children to arise. When this happens, the parties may seek assistance from the courts to establish a time-sharing schedule for the parents to follow. When the courts get involved, it can be an overwhelming process. Here are five basic facts about the process that will be helpful to know about time-sharing proceedings:
- Paternity needs to be established before an action can be initiated.
If the parents of the child were married at the time the child was born, or shortly thereafter, then an official paternity judgment is not necessary. However, if the child was born out of wedlock, paternity must be established by one of the following means:
- An affidavit, signed by both parties, acknowledging paternity that is filed with the court;
- A notarized affidavit, signed before two witnesses, acknowledging paternity; or
- A court hearing.
- Only a court in the child’s home state can enter and/or modify a time-sharing order.
On the surface, this may seem obvious; however, in certain cases it is not. The child’s home state is the state where the child has resided for the previous six months. If the child is less than six months old, the home state is the state where the child has resided permanently since birth.
- You will be required to take a parenting class.
In Florida, all parties involved in paternity/timesharing cases are required to complete the Children First in Divorce course before the final hearing will be scheduled. This course is offered through Hope Haven’s Children’s Clinic on various days and times.
- It is favorable to all parties involved if the parents can resolve their issues before the final hearing.
Before a final hearing is scheduled with a Judge, your case will be referred for mediation. This is when both parties sit down with an independent third party and try to resolve any disagreements regarding the timesharing plan. For example, a mediator can help you both come to an agreement on what nights and holidays your child gets to spend with you, or who is responsible for paying for your child’s extracurricular activities. Essentially, it is the parties who have the control in the amount of time each gets to spend with the children.
If an agreement can be reached, the mediator will draft an agreement that both parties will sign, and this agreement will be filed with the court. If the parties cannot come to an agreement, the mediator will notify the court of the matters that have been resolved (if any), as well as the outstanding issues to be addressed in an evidentiary hearing. If a hearing is required, the judge makes the final decision as to how much time the child spends with each parent.
- Time-sharing cases are ALWAYS about the child’s best interest.
This does not mean the court will do what the child wants. It means that the court will do whatever is necessary to make sure the child’s needs are met, the child is safe, and the child is cared for. The courts will always consider the child’s best interest, even when the parents forget to do so. Also, it is important to remember that the child’s best interest may not always be what one party (or both!) wants; the ultimate goal in a paternity/time-sharing matter is not to give one party everything he or she wants, but to ensure that the child’s needs are properly addressed.
When a family separates and a child is involved, there are a lot of steps to the process; however, you do not have to go it alone! You may seek the advice of a family law attorney who can help guide you through the process. If you find yourself in this scenario and would like to talk with an experienced family law attorney, please call the Law Offices of Kate Mesic to schedule a consultation.