Fathers can sometimes face a difficult task when in a legal struggle over child custody. This may be especially true if the father never was married to the mother of the child. If you do not take care and assert your family law rights, you may end up with far less parenting time with your son or daughter than you want, depriving him or her of having both parents in his or her life.

There are some things that fathers can do to improve their chances of reaching a fair child custody settlement or getting one in court. Here are four tips for new fathers:

1. Establish paternity in court. Readers should know that signing the birth certificate often does not legally establish that you are the father. An unmarried father will probably need to file with the court to have paternity acknowledged. From there, you will have the right to request visitation, child custody and so on.

2. Expect to pay child support if the mother is on public assistance. When the mother receives Medicaid, food stamps or other forms of relief, the state of Florida has the right to file a child support request with the court. On the other hand, this could lead to paternity being established.

3. Informal custody, support agreements often fail. You and the mother may have had good intentions. But a handshake agreement or “understanding” about sharing child custody or paying child support is very difficult to enforce in court if the mother changes her mind. A legally drawn settlement is much more reliable. However, if you can show that you were paying informal support before a court order, you may receive credit for it.

4. Paying child support does not equal child custody rights. The court may choose to order you to pay child support without granting you custody or visitation time. You have to show that granting you custody is in the child’s best interests.

Source: WFTS-TV, “Five important things that unwed fathers need to know,” Yvette Harrell, Oct. 8, 2013