When a married mother gives birth to a baby in Florida, her husband is automatically presumed to be the legal father of that baby. That’s an easy path to established paternity.
But of course, not all babies are born to married women, and sometimes family situations are more complicated than they appear – it’s always possible that even in the case of a married mother, the spouse is not the biological father of the baby for whatever reason.
In the case of single parents and other situations where paternity might be in question, how does one go about establishing paternity in Florida? And, just as importantly, what are the legal benefits of establishing paternity? Take a look at what you need to know about the how and why of establishing paternity in Florida.
Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity
If a child’s parents aren’t married to each other, but everyone involved agrees on who the father of the child is, the simplest way to establish paternity is with a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity. This is a simple document that states that the man signing the document is the father of the child.
Once it’s signed, either parent can change their mind and revoke their signature for the next 60 days. However, after 60 days, if neither parent has changed their mind, the document is final and the man signing the acknowledgment of paternity is the legal father, with all of the rights and responsibilities that entails.
A voluntary acknowledgment of paternity can be signed at the time of the child’s birth, if the father is present and wants to sign the birth certificate. For many families, that’s the simplest way to do it – take care of the paternity acknowledgment along with all the other paperwork that needs to be done upon birth.
If the father isn’t present or doesn’t wish to sign the acknowledgment at the time the child is born, that’s all right too – the document can be signed anytime between birth and the child’s 18th birthday. All that’s required is for both parents to agree on paternity.
Establishing Paternity in Florida Court
Of course, the key to a voluntary acknowledgment is that it’s voluntary. If the father won’t voluntarily sign the paperwork, or the mother disagrees that he is the father, then paternity must be established through the court system instead. There are several different parties who have the right to ask the court to establish paternity.
These include the child’s mother, the man who believes himself to be the father or who has been identified by the mother as the father, the child themselves (through a legal representative), or the Florida Department of Child Support Services.
If the request for the court to establish paternity comes from the Department of Child Support Services, they can only use the result to determine child support. The department can’t request a child custody or visitation schedule – the parents would have to do that on their own.
However, if the request comes from the child’s mother or father, parenting plans may be asked for as well. To begin a paternity case in court, the party that wishes to establish paternity should go to the circuit court in the county where the parents reside.
If the parents do not reside in the same county, the party wishing to establish paternity can go to the circuit court in either the mother’s or father’s county of residence. The court will order genetic testing for the child, the mother, and the alleged father, and will make its determination based on DNA test results.
Why Paternity Matters
A common misconception about paternity establishment is all about child support. But that’s not the case. There are several important reasons why establishing paternity in Florida can be important to both the parents and the child involved.
For one thing, fathers have the right to spend time with their children, have input on raising their children, and make important decisions about their children. Neither parent inherently has more rights than the other to the child; under Florida law, mothers and fathers have equal parental rights.
However, without establishing paternity, a man can’t legally be considered a father and therefore doesn’t have any more parental rights than a stranger. Establishing paternity also establishes a father’s right to participate in his child’s upbringing.
The establishment of paternity also has to do with the child’s rights. For example, a child may have the right to be added to their father’s health insurance plan or may be entitled to their fathers’ veteran’s benefits.
But without legally established paternity, the child can’t receive these benefits. If the father or anyone in his family (the child’s grandparents, for example) wishes to include the child in their estate planning, establishing paternity is beneficial for this as well.
There are other benefits as well. Children may benefit from knowing who their father is and having access to their paternal family history and medical history, whether or not the father is a regular presence in their lives. Everyone likes to know where they came from, and without a father, a child is missing half the story.
How to Get Started
If you’re planning to file a paternity action, you may be worried about paying exorbitant attorney’s fees in order to get the matter resolved. That’s understandable – family attorneys can be expensive. But there’s good news. You don’t necessarily need a law firm representation to establish paternity, or even to pursue custody or visitation.
Family court cases are different from criminal cases or personal injury lawsuits. Most parents are capable of representing themselves in family court matters like the establishment of paternity, custody, or visitation. You need to know which forms to fill out and if you must appear in front of a judge, what court hearing procedures to follow, how to present evidence, and how to testify.
But you don’t necessarily need an attorney to prepare you for this – a legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you with preparation, resources, and even document storage. That way, you can be prepared to represent yourself and your child’s interests in court without the need to pay high legal costs.