What Every Floridian Should Know About Family Law

Family law deals with a range of issues including marriage, paternity, and the emancipation of minors. Learn about what is required for a couple to get married or divorced – and what it means for a minor (someone under 18) to become emancipated.

A person who is 18 can marry without parental consent. However, a person who is at least 17 years old may obtain a marriage license only with written parental consent and if the older party to the marriage is not more than 2 years older than the younger party to the marriage.

A marriage license is issued by the clerk of the circuit court or by a county court judge. Blood tests are no longer required in Florida. You can apply for a marriage license in any county in Florida, even if you do not get married there. The license is valid for 60 days after issuance.

Ordained ministers of any church, ordained clergy, judges, clerks of the circuit court, and notaries public of Florida can perform a marriage ceremony.

No. A wife is not required by law to take her husband’s last name (or surname as it is legally called). If the wife takes her husband’s surname, she should change her name on her Social Security card, driver license, passport, voter registration, credit cards, bank accounts, and inform others with whom she does business or holds a license.

Florida is a “no-fault” divorce state, meaning the court need not find either party at fault to dissolve a marriage. It is sufficient to simply plead that the marriage is irretrievably broken.

Florida is known as an equitable distribution state. This means that although the court begins with the presumption that marital assets and debts are to be divided equally, the court has the power to decide how property and debts obtained during a marriage should be fairly divided upon divorce. Even though fault is not an issue in granting the dissolution, the division of property and possessions, and the responsibility for support and custody of children, may become contested matters.

After equitable distribution has been made, the court may consider the award of alimony to either the husband or the wife. In awarding alimony, the requesting spouse must demonstrate a need for alimony and the ability of the other party to pay. The court then considers many factors to determine the proper type and amount of alimony. For more information, review The Florida Bar’s consumer pamphlet, “Divorce in Florida.”

Yes. In 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled all states are required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize sex-same marriages validly performed in other jurisdictions.

Under Florida’s Safe Haven law, a parent may drop off a newborn within seven days of birth at any hospital emergency room, staffed fire rescue station, or staffed emergency medical service station in the state of Florida. The person leaving the baby is not required to answer any questions and has the right to remain anonymous. A parent of a newborn infant left at a hospital, emergency medical services station, or fire station under the “Safe Haven” law may claim his or her newborn infant up until the court enters a judgment terminating his or her parental rights. A claim for the newborn infant must be made to the entity having physical or legal custody of the newborn infant or to the circuit court before whom proceedings involving the newborn infant are pending.

The person that left the baby at an unsafe place may face criminal charges.

Paternity is the legal establishment of relationship between a father and a child either administratively or by a court of law. DNA testing is the primary method for determining paternity. While signing a birth certificate creates a rebuttable presumption of a father's paternity, the mother of a child born out of wedlock is the natural guardian of the child and is entitled to primary residential care and custody of the child unless the court enters an order stating otherwise. If unmarried, establishing paternity gives the parents of the child the legal right to seek an order for child support, parental responsibility, time sharing and a parenting plan with the minor child.

Paternity can be established administratively (in a Department of Revenue case for child support, for example), by filing a stipulation of paternity with the clerk of court, by affidavit of paternity, a notarized voluntary acknowledgement of paternity, or a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity, that is witnessed by two individuals and signed under penalty of perjury by both parties, or by filing a Petition for Paternity in circuit court.

Preferably you and your spouse can work out the parenting issues, avoid or minimize the harm to the children, and avoid a court fight. However, if you are unable to resolve these issues, the court must decide them for you based on the best interests of the child(ren). It is the public policy of the state of Florida that each minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.

For more information on paternity issues, visit the Florida Department of Revenue’s web page on paternity.

Emancipation is the act by which a minor (under the age of 18), gains all the rights and responsibilities of an adult. An emancipated minor has the legal capacity to act as an adult. An emancipated minor is no longer entitled to the benefits of being a minor. At that point, the minor’s parents no longer have a legal responsibility to support the minor. The Department of Children and Families will not intervene to protect the minor’s welfare as DCF would for an un-emancipated minor.

Emancipation does not change the effect of laws which restrict behavior by a minimum age. For example, an emancipated minor cannot drink until age 21 or vote until age 18.