If you are married when your wife gives birth to your child, you are automatically presumed to be the child’s father under Florida law. With this presumption comes all of the parental rights and obligations of fatherhood. Paternity is more complicated when the parents are not married. But determining who the father is can benefit both parents, and a Florida paternity lawyer can help with this process. At Orlando Family Team, we have experience representing both sides of the paternity issue.
What Does Paternity Mean?
Put simply, paternity is the determination that someone is the father of a child. Establishing paternity is a prerequisite to gaining rights as a father, such as custody and visitation. Paternity also gives important rights to the child, such as the right of support and of inheritance. Either party can, therefore, benefit from a paternity determination.
Who Can Establish Paternity?
The mother can initiate a paternity action in Florida, as can anyone who believes himself to be the father. In many cases, the child’s mother or legal guardian will request government assistance for the child, such as Medicaid. Florida’s Department of Revenue can seek to determine paternity in order to hold the father responsible for child support.
How Is Paternity Established?
Many fathers mistakenly believe that establishing paternity is as simple as signing the child’s birth certificate. But this only creates a presumption of paternity. To officially be recognized as the child’s legal father in Florida, several options are available:
- Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity
- Administrative Order based on DNA test
- Petition to Establish Paternity
How Can a Voluntary Acknowledgment Establish Paternity?
When the parents both agree that the man is the father of the child, they can complete and sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity. The acknowledgment can be signed either at the hospital or at a later date. It is a sworn statement that the father is, in fact, the child’s true legal father, and it grants him all legal rights and responsibilities that come with fatherhood. Once this form is signed, it becomes legally binding after 60 days. Unless there was an extraordinarily unusual circumstance by which the father was coerced or pressured into signing the acknowledgment, it cannot be revoked after the 60 days.
How Does Legitimation Work?
If the father and mother of the child marry each other after the child is born, the child may be legitimated. Legitimation is the process by which the father can gain parental rights to the child. It requires updating the child’s birth certificate and filing certain forms with the clerk of court in your area. Orlando Family Team can assist with this process.
How Can An Administrative Order Establish Paternity?
The Florida Department of Revenue offers free DNA testing to help establish paternity. It requires genetic samples (cheek swabs) from the mother, the alleged father, and the child. If the results come back positive and the male is determined to be the biological father, the Department of Revenue can issue an administrative order. This order will require the state Office of Vital Statistics to update the child’s birth certificate with the father’s name. All parties must cooperate to use this method, and must voluntarily submit to genetic testing. But it is a simpler alternative to going to court.
How Does A Petition to Establish Paternity Work?
If none of the above options are available, either party can initiate a paternity action in court. This is done by way of a Petition to Establish Paternity. The petition is used to formally request that the court determine who the father is, and it can be filed at any point when the child is still a minor. To file the petition in Florida, the petitioning party must be a resident of the state for at least 6 months prior to bringing the action.
All parties must appear before the judge, who may order a DNA test. If the court determines that the man is the father, the birth certificate will be updated and the father will be afforded all parental rights and obligations. These legal proceedings can also be used to address child support, health insurance for the child, custody, and visitation.
If the alleged father does not show up to court, and he has been served with a summons directing him to appear, the court may enter a default judgment determining that he is the father. If an action is commenced and the parties agree (prior to court) that the man is, or is not the father, they can enter into a consent order. The consent order will set forth relevant facts, legal conclusions, and a declaration that the man is or is not the father. Once the judge signs it, the consent order becomes a legally enforceable order of the court.
What If I Find Out Later That I am Not the Father of the Child?
In some cases, the man is incorrectly told he is the father of the child – including after the legal process to establish his paternity is complete. Florida does allow a man to file a Petition to Disestablish Paternity. But once paternity is established, it can be difficult to undo. Any actions taken or comments made by the alleged father may be held as admissions of paternity. In cases like this, having a knowledgeable family law attorney will prove invaluable.
Contact An Orlando Paternity Attorney Today
Paternity brings certain rights and responsibilities into the family dynamic, and having a skilled attorney by your side is critical to protecting your interests. If you’re a mother in need of child support or a father who wants to visit his child, turn to Orlando Family Team. We can work with you on paternity and all related issues. Call us today or fill out the contact form to reach one of our attorneys.