Imagine a situation where a child is born to parents who are not married. Let’s assume the father’s name appears on the birth certificate. After a while, the parents decide to part ways. The mother resists allowing the father to see his daughter. Note that the father hasn’t yet established paternity through any court action.
The Key Question: Does the father possess parental rights for child visitation? Generally, without established paternity, Florida law denies him these rights.
Why is it important to establish paternity?
In Florida, unmarried fathers must first establish paternity in order to enforce their parental rights. Until a father establishes paternity, he will not be able to legally enforce his rights to his child. Having your name on the child’s birth certificate is not sufficient.
Until an adjudication of paternity, the mother is still deemed the natural guardian of a child born out of wedlock under Florida Statute §744.301(1). See Perez v. Giledes, 912 So.2d 32 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005); and In the Interest of S.M.H., 531 So.2d 228 (Fla. 1st DCA 1988). However, a father is on an equal playing field in terms of seeking time-sharing once he asserts his rights as a father by seeking an adjudication of paternity.
One primary purpose of establishing paternity is to identify the child’s biological father. Another is to mandate child support from the father while the child is a minor.
So, how do you establish paternity?
In Florida, there are five ways to establish paternity:
- Marriage: Parents get married before the child’s birth. In this case, there is a presumption that the Husband is the Father to the minor child.
- Acknowledgment of Paternity: The unmarried couple signs a legal document in the hospital when the child is born, or later.
- Administrative Order Based on Genetic Testing: A genetic test confirms fatherhood, and an Administrative Order establishes paternity.
- Court Order: A judge orders paternity in court.
- Legitimization: The mother and biological father marry after the child’s birth. They then update the birth record through the Florida Office of Vital Statistics.
Establishing Paternity through Florida Courts:
Either the mother or father may file a Petition to Establish Paternity in Circuit Court. If paternity has not been established and the child’s guardian or mother requests government assistance for the child (i.e. Medicaid), the Florida Department of Revenue may file a Petition to Establish Paternity for purposes of child support.
1. Actions brought by the Florida Department of Revenue:
The Florida Department of Revenue can take action to enforce child support from fathers of children born or soon to be born out of wedlock. The Department brings these actions on behalf of individuals who are receiving government aid, and may also bring such actions on behalf of persons who are not receiving government aid if they make proper application for help in litigating paternity and support. See Florida Statute § 409.2567.
By accepting public assistance for a dependent child, a mother appoints the Department as her attorney in fact and assigns to the Department any right to execute a complaint and institute a proceeding for the determination of paternity of the child, or the establishment, modification, or enforcement of support obligations. See Florida Statute §409.2561(2)(b).
Aside from establishing paternity, actions brought by the Florida Department of Revenue are for the purpose of determining child support. In other words, the Court will not enter an order regarding the parent’s decision-making rights of the child; or an order awarding time-sharing with the child. The Department establishes paternity first. It then issues an order specifying the amount of child support the non-custodial parent must pay.
2. Actions brought by a Parent:
A pregnant mother or a mother who has given birth can initiate a paternity proceeding. She can request child support if paternity has not been previously established. See Florida Statute § 742.011.
Any man who believes he is a child’s father can file a paternity action. This is possible unless the law or other means have already established paternity. See Florida Statute §742.011.As an alternative, a putative father can seek a declaratory judgment to establish paternity. This also adjudicates the rights and duties of the involved parties.
The Florida Putative Father Registry was created to permit a man alleging to be the unmarried biological father of a child to preserve his right to notice and consent in the event of an adoption. Click here for the application to register: Florida Putative Father Registry Application for Search
To apply for services with the Florida Department of Revenue visit: Child Support Services
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