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Never married father shocked by fiancee's sudden departure with their young child; what can he do?

Your Question:
My fiancee left and took our 3 yr. old. She refused to tell me where she took her and didn't let me see our daughter for a few days. I talked to a lawyer and he said because we were never married I don't have many options. In the state of Florida the unwed mother has the upperhand. She won't bring my daughter back to the home she has know her whole life to see me because she doesnt want to confuse her. She is now staying with a co-worker and has all of our childs clothes and toys in a van. I'm am worried about the welfare of our child.I would like to know what I should do next. Do I need to get a paternity test even though I'm on the birth certificate and we never married? Can I file for custody? What should I expect?

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My Answer:

Thanks for writing, and sorry for what you're going through.

I'm going to assume that you have no problems with alcohol, crime, drugs, or violence. If you do, then it's a whole different ballgame. I'm also going to assume you've been an involved parent, and not a partying dude or workaholic who is never home.

I think you need to act ASAP because it's likely that your fiance has been planning this for a while, may have an attorney, and may be preparing to file something.

You need to file a paternity action (i.e., this is what it's called when parents aren't married) and request temporary orders for child custody and a parenting schedule.

Get objective witnesses to write brief affadavits (a sworn declaration) as to how involved you have been as a father. An objective witness is a teacher, day care provider, doctor, rabbi, priest, neighbor. Your best friend or family members are not good witnesses.

Get some evidence of all the child's things being kept in a vehicle. Take pictures through the car window, if you need to. Run a background check on the co-worker-- it could be valuable to your position if this person has a criminal conviction that might indicate a risk to your child.

In your own affadavit, describe how much you've cared for the child (e.g., "I've been home at 3pm everyday and have been the primary parent from 3pm until the child's bedtime at 7pm. I fed her, bathed her, and put her to bed."). Also describe how you want to ensure the child has high access to both parents, despite that the mother has completely severed the child's access to you.

You need an aggressive attorney who has at least 10 years experience practicing family law in your county. This experience will help you, since the attorney will know the local players in other attorneys, evaluators, and judges.

You need an aggressive pit bull of an attorney because the mother of this child has made it clear that she wants a battle and intends to keep the child from you. Reasonable, settlement-oriented attorneys may not litigate as well or as strategically as aggressive ones. Don't go back to the attorney who told you that your options are limited-- he's already telling you that you'll lose.

Above all, you need to read my What You Must Have page.

Ideally, you can retain an attorney and file something within a week. Get to it. RIGHT NOW is among the most important times in your child custody case-- you can quickly be thrust into a big disadvantage unless you make something happen fast.

Finally, prepare for war and pray for peace. By taking the child without any discussion with you, your fiancee has declared that this will be a battle. But never hesitate to lay down your sword if she makes a serious (i.e., puts something on paper with willingness to sign it) offer of peaceful settlement.

And don't be confused by the feelings of love you may have for this woman. A woman who has an ounce of care for you will never do what she has done. Most parents separate with maturity and sensitivity for everyone involved. All it takes is one unreasonable parent, and it turns into a battlefield.

Good luck.


This website gives common sense advice that is not intended to act as legal guidance nor psychological guidance. The author is neither an attorney nor licensed psychologist. For specific legal guidance or specific psychological guidance, consult with a licensed professional.

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