Paternity establishment in Florida: What it is and why it matters

The child, mother and alleged father all stand to benefit from establishing paternity in Florida.

In Florida, when a married couple has a child, the woman's husband is legally presumed to be the father. In situations outside this one, fatherhood must be established through taking the proper steps. Establishing paternity is critical for the mother, father, and child, as each could benefit in some way. If you believe yourself to be the father of a child out of wedlock, understand that until paternity is established, you have no rights to the child whatsoever in Florida.

Why establish paternity?

Many people may believe that paternity is established solely for the purpose of one parent collecting child support payments. While this can be a factor, there are a number of other benefits to consider, such as the following:

  • A father has legal rights to a child, which includes spending time with a child on a schedule and parental responsibility rights. If paternity is not established per Florida law, then these rights do not exist. For example, if the Mother desires to move to Timbuktu with the child, and the presumed Father has not established paternity, there is nothing he can do legally to stop the Mother from moving short of filing a Paternity action.
  • A child has legal rights to certain benefits from the father, which may include health insurance or veterans' benefits.
  • A child can benefit from knowing a biological father's health history.
  • Establishing Paternity is important for estate planning purposes.

It can also be beneficial for a child to know who his or her father is, simply from the standpoint of having a desire to know.

How do I establish paternity in Florida?

According to the Florida Department of Revenue, there are several ways that an unmarried couple can determine fatherhood. The first is that both parties sign an acknowledgement of paternity. This can be done either at the hospital when the child is born or at a later date. Doing this alone, however, does not entitle a Father to spend time with the child.

The only way a Father of a child born out of wedlock can guarantee time with a child is by obtaining a paternity judgment in Circuit Court with a Parenting plan. Obtaining a parenting plan may also effect child support payments as well, as if the Father is spending more than 20% of a year's overnights with the minor child, he is generally entitled to a reduction in child support. To be fair, this is not a real reduction in child support; rather, it is an acknowledgment that if a Father is spending 20% or more nights with a minor child, then he is presumably spending a substantial amount of money directly for that child.

If the mother and father get married following the birth of the child, it is considered legitimation. According to Florida law, the husband will be presumed to be the father of the child, though his name will not automatically be placed on the birth certificate. The parents will have to complete paperwork with the Clerk of Court.

Do I have to go to court if I am disputing paternity?

As the Florida DOR points out, genetic testing can circumvent court. If the mother, alleged father and child all take a genetic test that indicates that the man is indeed the father, the DOR will issue an order to put the man's name on the birth certificate. The order is considered just as legally binding as a court order. However, the department warns that not every case will qualify for this arrangement. Additionally, if a Father wants a parenting plan to confirm time with the child, merely putting a Father's name on the birth certificate does nothing to this effect. Again, the only way for a Father of a child born out of wedlock to guarantee time with that child is by obtaining a court-ordered parenting plan through filing a paternity action in circuit court.

Establishing paternity can trigger a number of legal issues. Families in this situation should connect with a family law attorney in Florida.