Paternity is one of the aspects of family law that many find confusing. It is also one of the most important when it comes to matters of child custody, child support, and parenting plans. Legal fatherhood as defined by Florida state law is the deciding factor in what rights that fathers have during the separation or divorce processes. Of course, legal fatherhood also carries with it responsibilities, including child custody, child support, and visitation agreements.
Florida law considers the husband of a woman who has a child the legal father. Even so, there are several ways that men can establish paternity for legal fatherhood and gain all the rights and responsibilities of the title.
Florida law recognizes five ways of establishing paternity, these are:
- Marriage - The most common way to establish paternity is for the mother and father to be married at the time that the child is born. In such cases, the father’s name will appear on the birth certificate, and the court will recognize him as the legal father.
- Genetic Testing - Often referred to as a paternity test, Florida fathers can rely on genetic testing to establish paternity and legal fatherhood. Genetic testing is most commonly conducted by collecting a tissue sample (swab of the inner cheek) from the father, child, and possibly the mother. Scientific tests will read the DNA profile of the father and child to determine a match. Genetic testing may be ordered by the court if the paternity of a child is called into question. For standard testing, the court will issue an administrative order for the test to be conducted.
- Acknowledgement - Acknowledgement of paternity is a process used by unmarried couples who want the paternity of the father established legally. If both parents are present during birth, they will complete the applicable Paternity Acknowledgement DH-511 forms, and the father will have the role of a legal father immediately, as the form is submitted to the Florida Office of Vital Statistics by the hospital. In cases where the couple wishes to submit the form later, they must complete the applicable form in the presence of a notary public and witnesses, and then mail the form to the Florida Office of Vital Statistics. Following this process, the father’s name will be added to the birth certificate.
- Court Order - Another way to establish paternity is through court order. Like other processes that move through the court, establishing paternity begins with a hearing. In some cases, the court will order genetic testing at the expense of the mother and/or father. If both the mother and father agree to paternity before the hearing, then the court will accept a consent order signed by both parties and move forward with establishing paternity. After beginning the process of a court order, it is important for fathers to realize that they do not have to be present at the hearing in order for the judge to declare them the legal father.
- Legitimation - Legitimation is the process by which the father and mother marry after the child is born, in which case Florida law will consider the husband to be the legal father of the child. However, the marriage of the father and mother does not retroactively change the birth certificate to reflect the legal father. In order to legitimize legal fatherhood, the father and mother must complete applicable forms at the Clerk of Court’s Office (the same office where marriage licenses are obtained). The Clerk of Court will then submit the forms to the Florida Office of Vital Statistics.
Why is Paternity Important?
Establishing paternity is the crucial element to becoming a legal father in Florida. Paternity is the factor that allows fathers to have rights to their children and the protections of the court in the event of divorce or other family law matters. There are some issues related to paternity that present unique and complex challenges for fathers and mothers, such as:
- Mother’s Seeking Paternity - While in many cases, paternity is established due to the father’s desire to be involved in his child’s life, there are cases where paternity is sought on the part of the mother who needs additional support from the father.
- De-Establishment of Paternity - One unusual, but possible, circumstance involves the case where a man was named father by the court by default and was unaware that a court summons was issued to him. In these cases, de-establishment of legal fatherhood is necessary to avoid further court sanctions.
- Rescission - Under Florida law, fathers have 60 days from the date listed on a birth certificate to remove their signature from the birth certificate. In cases where the individual named on the birth certificate is not the biological father, Florida father’s have the option of removing their signature from the birth certificate by providing DNA results proving that they are not the father.
- Adoption - There are cases where a Florida father wants to disclaim paternity in order for someone else to adopt his child. In such cases, it will be important to determine the best course of disclaiming fatherhood.
While these situations are less common, they show some of the complexities related to paternity in family law matters.
Establishing paternity for fathers who do want to be involved in their child’s life is a critical step toward protecting their legal rights and the rights of their children. In Florida, children have the right to a relationship with both parents, and new laws have been established encouraging 50/50 “timesharing” rather than traditional child custody plans. In fact, new laws provide groundbreaking criteria for the idea of “substantial parenting,” making the process of establishing parenting plans, child custody and timesharing, and child support arrangements smoother and more equitable.
Any father or mother interested in establishing or de-establishing paternity in Florida should carefully weigh their options before proceeding through the family law process. In most cases, paternity matters are best managed under the watchful eye of an experienced Florida family law attorney.
Contact our experienced Gainesville Family Law Attorney today to set up a free consultation.