In Florida, when a mother is married and gives birth, the law assumes the child’s father is the mother’s husband. But when the mother is unmarried at the time of the child’s birth, paternity must be established, either voluntarily or through a court order.
If the mother and alleged father agree on who the child’s father is, they can sign a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity” form. When the parents sign this document, they are acknowledging that the man signing the form is the child’s legal father and swearing under oath that the information is true. The acknowledgment becomes final 60 days after it has been signed. After the 60 days elapses, neither parent can revoke it. If either parent wants to revoke it, he or she must prove in court that there was fraud or extreme force was used to getting the parent to sign.
If there is no voluntary acknowledgment, either the mother or the man who believes he is the father may proceed to court to establish paternity. Under Florida law, any of the following persons or agencies can start the court process:
- the child’s mother
- the man who believes he is the father or who has been identified as the father (also known as the “alleged father”)
- the child through a legal representative, or
- the Florida Department of Child Support Services.
If a government agency establishes paternity, the agency can only make orders regarding child support. For other orders such as a parenting schedule, the mother or alleged father must go to court.
Where to start the case
Florida has a system of circuit courts that cover family law cases. Each circuit court covers several counties. The family court judge has the authority to make decisions on paternity cases. The case should be started in the circuit court for the county where either the mother or father resides. The court will order a genetic test for the mother, child, and the putative father.
A case can be started before the child’s birth, but the final hearing can’t be held until after the child is born.
Whenever a paternity matter is started in court, the judge may also make orders for:
- child support
- health insurance for the child
- parenting time
- decision making authority over the child, and
- payment of either party’s attorney’s fees and court costs, such as the cost to start the case in court.
If the judge does not make orders for parenting time or decision making for the child, Florida law assumes that the mother has all of the parenting time and sole decision-making authority.
Why Establish Paternity?
If a mother is left to support and raise a child on her own, it stands to reason that a child support order would benefit her and her child. Additionally, the alleged father may have health insurance benefits that are available for the child.
Aside from the benefit of having a father’s involvement, a child may also be entitled to government benefits if the dad is disabled or a veteran. The child would also be entitled to inherit from the father’s estate.
Many men are becoming aware of the importance of a father in a child’s life. If the parents are not on good terms, the alleged father may need court orders for his share of parenting time. The father may want joint decision-making authority with the mother. This means that the father and mother have an equal voice in decisions concerning the child’s health care, education, and religious upbringing among other major issues. A father cannot obtain these orders without establishing his paternity.