Establishing Paternity in Florida: an Overview
March 30, 2015
In Florida, a child can legally have only one father. However, determining who that father is and establishing parental rights can be somewhat complex. If a mother is married at the time of her child’s birth, Florida law presumes that her husband is the child’s father. However, if the mother is unmarried, paternity must be established. The establishment of a child’s paternity may be voluntary, or a court order may be needed.
When both parents agree on the child’s paternity, they can sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form. This form acknowledges that the man signing the form is the father of the child, and requires the parents to swear under oath that the man is in fact the child’s father. The paternity acknowledgement becomes final sixty days after signing the form. After that point, paternity cannot be revoked unless it can be proven that a parent was induced to sign either by fraud or by force.
If either parent is unwilling to acknowledge paternity, it can nonetheless be established through a court order. The parent seeking to determine paternity, whether the mother or the man who believes himself to be the father, can sue to establish paternity. Additionally, the child, through a representative, may initiate paternity proceedings. The Florida Department of Child Support can also initiate proceedings. This typically occurs when a mother applies for government relief, such as Medicaid, for the child.
For a paternity suit, the court typically orders genetic testing to determine whether the putative father is the child’s biological parent. Paternity proceedings may be initiated before the child’s birth, but the final hearing cannot occur until the child has been born.
In the paternity suit, the court may also address issues such as child support, time sharing, parenting plans, medical insurance, and the payment of court costs and attorney’s fees. If paternity is established by the Department of Child Support, only orders regarding child support will be made. To determine issues such as parenting plans and time sharing, a parent will need to go to court. If the court does not make orders addressing issues of time sharing or parental decision making, Florida law presumes that the mother has sole authority in these areas.
Establishing paternity can have many benefits for the child, the mother, and the father. If paternity is established, the mother can get a child support order. The child may be entitled to health insurance or government benefits from the father, and can inherit from the father upon his death. The father may want to have authority to make parenting decisions for the child, and if the mother is uncooperative, he may need visitation rights so he can be involved in his child’s life. Additionally, a father’s involvement in a child’s life is important and can have a positive influence on the child’s emotional health and future.
Establishing paternity is increasingly necessary in today’s society. If you need help in navigating the law surrounding paternity determinations, please contact West Palm Beach family law attorney William Wallshein for a free initial consultation.