What is a Father
When a child is born to a married couple, the husband is assumed by law to be the baby’s father without the need for further legal action. The legal father has both rights and obligations in relation to the child. If the mother is unmarried, the father needs to establish paternity. His name on the birth certificate does not qualify as proof of legal paternity. Any paternity questions or disputes in Florida are handled by Family Law courts.
If the parents are unmarried, paternity can be determined voluntarily or by court order. It needs to be remembered that paternity refers to the legal father, not necessarily the biological father. If the parents should marry after the child’s birth, they can establish legal paternity with a paternity test. Should any other man step forward claiming to be the child’s father, he will need to file a paternity suit with the court.
An unmarried couple can sign a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity” form acknowledging that the man is the child’s legal father. This must be signed in front of a Notary Public. Either parent can revoke this document for 60 days after it was signed by proving it was signed under duress or with fraudulent intent.
Paternity by Court Order.
If the Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity was not signed, either the man or the woman or the Florida Department of Child Support Services may look to the court for a determination as to paternity. In such a case, the court will order DNA tests from both the alleged parents and the child. The court order can be requested before the child’s birth, but the tests will wait until it is born.
Why is Establishing Paternity Important
Obviously, paternity is important to the child, as children need both a mother and a father. Developing a healthy relationship with a father is an important part of growing into an emotionally healthy adult.
More than that, however, the legal father can be ordered to pay child support, and he may also be able to provide insurance benefits. Children whose paternity has been established may be entitled to disability and/or military benefits, and he or she is entitled to inherit from the legal father.
Once a man establishes paternity, he automatically gains certain rights, such as custody and visitation rights – unless the court has reason to object. If the parents are unmarried, and their relationship is strained, issues such as education, upbringing, and health care are more easily handled if paternity has been established and thus providing certain rights to the father.
Of course, with rights come obligations. Both mother and father are expected to be a part of, and agree on, parenting issues, dependency for tax purposes, pregnancy expenses, and others.
Establishing paternity is important to the mother, as well. Otherwise, she would be the sole provider for the child instead of benefiting from the assistance of the legal father.
If the man believes he is not the child’s father, he can go to court and contest paternity and relieve himself of an obligation that isn’t his.
Paternity can raise some complicated issues. A paternity test may be necessary if the alleged parents get married after the child’s conception. Or, vice versa, if the couple is married while the child is conceived but divorces before its birth.
With a child’s life and future at stake, fathers are strongly advised to consult with a family law attorney regarding the best path to take.
Establishing paternity has innumerable benefits for both mother and father. Most of all, however, it provides a child with a sense of identity and the additional support of a parent he or she might otherwise lack.
The legal process can get difficult, which is why we always recommend that you seek the assistance of counsel; or at least have a consultation. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today to review the issues of your case, the legal options you may have, and certain rights that pertain to your unique situation.
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