Establishing Paternity in Florida

The traditional image of the American family includes a mother, a father and children, and everyone assumes the man in this family called “Dad” is the biological father. Legal issues surrounding paternity are not as uncommon now as in days past with marriage rates declining generally and less people planning to ever marry. Determining who the biological father of a child has many legal ramifications and affects issues like parental rights and child support obligations. Further, each parent may have competing interests in establishing paternity, which can be accomplished through the cooperation of both parents or in contentious court proceedings. Given the fact that there are several ways for a man to be legally declared the father of a particular child, a discussion of how to establish paternity under Florida law and the legal effect of such a determination for the man and child will appear below.

Methods to Establish Paternity

One preliminary note – if a couple is married when a child is born, the husband is the legally presumed father of the baby and no further action is necessary. Therefore, this discussion will apply to cases where the child is born out of wedlock or the presumed father seeks to challenge paternity.

In cases where the child is born out of wedlock, the mother’s partner is not automatically recognized as the legal father of the child. However, the man assumes all the rights and obligations of a legal father if the couple marries at any time following the birth, and the child will be treated as if the parents were married at the birth.

The second way to establish paternity is to file an acknowledgement of paternity, which can be done at the hospital or at later time. The document must be signed by both parents and two witnesses and is filed with the Florida Office of Vital Statistics.

An administrative order from the Florida Department of Revenue is another method to establish paternity. The Department uses genetic testing to determine who the biological parents are, and any order issued by the Department indicating paternity is proven is as binding as an order from a court.

The final option available to determine paternity of a child is through the issuance of a court order. This option is typically used if there are claims by the alleged father that the child is not his. Courts will order a genetic test to decide if the man is in fact the child’s father, and this order can later be used as the basis to file petitions for child custody and/or support.

Obligations and Rights of a Legal Father

Once paternity is determined, and assuming the parents do not marry (which would trigger the first situation above), the father has an obligation to contribute to the financial support of the child. If paternity is determined through an administrative order from the Department of Revenue, the Department will work to obtain a child support order against the father. Otherwise, to enforce the father’s obligation to pay support, the mother would need to file a petition with the courts to obtain a child support order. The child also receives rights to government benefits and may inherit from the father’s estate if he predeceases the child.

In addition to financial obligations, once a man is declared the legal father of a child, he does receive the right to timesharing with the child, can petition for custody, and have input on decisions related to education and medical care. Timesharing and custody decisions are issues decided by a judge, so the timeline for resolution can be quite long, especially if the mother fights the father’s request.

Contact a Lawyer

Determinations of paternity, and the rights and obligations that follow a positive finding, can produce complicated results as both parties decide what the next steps will be. Making decisions about establishing paternity and enforcing the ensuing parental rights would benefit from the advice of an attorney. The Tampa law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A. has many years of experience with family law issues and is ready to assist you with any domestic-related needs. Contact us for a confidential consultation.

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