How Unwed Fathers Gain Custody Rights Over a Child
Learning that one is about to become a parent is an exciting and nerve-racking time. Anticipating the child and thinking of all the hopes and dreams a parent may have is a very emotional experience, but if the parent is an unwed father, the opportunity to participate in his child’s life is not guaranteed. The path to legal parenthood for unwed fathers requires the establishment of paternity. Establishing paternity grants a man legal rights and obligations over a child from birth to adulthood. In contrast, mothers and married men are automatically granted full custody and decision-making rights over a child upon birth, reflecting state policy in preference of marriage. A recent news story highlights the potential for complications this rule poses in practice. A Florida man is fighting for parental rights over his son from his ex-girlfriend’s husband. The boy’s mother was married at the time of the child’s birth to another man, thus giving her husband rights as the legal father. Generally, state law supports the involvement of both parents in a child’s life regardless of the couple’s relationship status, but does impose additional requirements on unwed fathers to attain these privileges. An overview of the available methods to establish paternity in Florida will follow below.
Acknowledgement of Paternity
The simplest way to gain paternity over a child is to file an Acknowledgement of Paternity with the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Vital Statistics. In order for this form to be valid, both the mother and presumed father must sign it in the presence of two witnesses, or have it notarized. By signing this document, the father is accepting full rights and responsibilities over the child, including the obligation to provide financial and medical support until the child is an adult. In return, the father is granted the right to request custody and visitation with the child. Both parties have the right to withdraw their consent to the acknowledgement of paternity within 60 days of executing the document. Once this time has passed, paternity is established and can only be challenged in court on the basis that the form was signed due to duress, fraud or mistake of fact.
Petitioning a Court and Genetic Testing
The other principal method of establishing paternity is through a court order. This is a more complicated process, and is typically used when there is a dispute over the child’s paternity. To determine if the child is in fact biologically related to the alleged father, the court will look at the circumstances of the parties’ personal relationship to see if the child is a likely result. In addition, either the court or the parties may request genetic testing. The test results are admissible as evidence of paternity, and if they show the man is related to the child by the statistical probability of 95 percent or higher, paternity is presumed. Both parties have the right to challenge the results and request further testing, but also have the responsibility for paying the costs for the new analysis.
If you have questions or concerns about the paternity of your child, consult an experienced family law attorney to ensure your legal rights are fully protected. Many rights and responsibilities are attached to this designation, which means it should not be initiated lightly. The Tampa Bay law firm All Family Group represents mothers and fathers in these matters, and is available to help you to determine the appropriate next steps. Contact the Tampa divorce attorneys and family lawyers at All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa Bay at 813-816-2232 for a consultation at no charge or email us.
by Lynette Silon-Laguna Google+