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Unwed Florida parents enjoy equal access to court

When unwed couples have a child prior to separating, they can face an unusual set of legal needs. Unlike married parents who go through a divorce, Florida parents who are unwed may face child custody needs, but do not normally have to go through the process of property division and other matters. Fortunately, unwed Florida parents have the same access to family court as those who were married.

That is not always the case, as evidenced in a recent change made in one Midwestern state. There, unwed parents who were unable to resolve their child custody differences were sent to a separate court than those who were pursuing divorce and child custody. Legal challenges to that policy led to the elimination of what was referred to as "parentage" court.

Illinois, the state in question has a long history of disparity in the manner in which married and unmarried couples are treated in court. In fact, state law once referred to the offspring of unmarried parents as "bastards." The state's parentage court was located in Chicago, and the physical courtrooms used to hear those cases were located in the basement of the courthouse.

Many legal professionals in the area supported the elimination of parentage court. The argument was made that fewer resources were available to unwed parents, and that forcing them to have their cases heard in a less prominent part of the courthouse was a form of discrimination. Other counties in Illinois continue to separate child custody matters according to the marital status of the parties.

In Florida, unwed parents enjoy equal access to child custody proceedings. No differentiation is made based on the marital status of the parties. While the issues before the court may differ, child custody matters are heard based on the merits of each individual case, regardless of whether or not the parties were or are married.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "After legal challenges, Cook County's court for unwed parents quietly goes away", Steve Schmadeke, Sept. 18, 2017

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