The Importance of Establishing Paternity in Child Custody and Support Cases
It seems almost self-evident that children thrive more in homes that have mothers and fathers in place to support and guide them. Ideally, all children would have the chance to live with both parents in a loving environment, but reality is often much harsher. Couples cannot always stay together, and marriage does not automatically guarantee happily ever after. For children born to unwed parents, the situation is complicated by the fact that unmarried men are not assumed to be the father of a child born to their partners. This gap in legal recognition can create problems when it comes to child custody and support issues. All legal parents have rights and obligations over their child, but without this designation, there is no way to exercise or enforce these legal measures. Florida law has several options available to prove a child’s paternity, some of which are voluntary and others that can occur on an order from a court. If the mother wishes to seek child support, or the father wants to secure visitation, paternity must first be established. Consequently, this issue is of critical importance to the wellbeing of the child.
Acknowledgement of Paternity
The simplest and easiest way to establish paternity requires the parents to file an acknowledgement of paternity with the Florida Department of Health, Office of Vital Statistics. This form must be signed by both parties in front of two witnesses or a notary public. Filing this form creates a legal presumption that the man signing it is the child’s father, and is assuming all the rights and responsibilities of a legal parent. Either party has 60 days from the time the form was signed to rescind this acknowledgement. After this time, it can only be challenged in court on the basis of fraud, duress, or mistake, which is very difficult to prove.
If the alleged father is challenging paternity or refuses to take responsibility for the child, it may be necessary to obtain a DNA test to confirm paternity. If the mother is just seeking child support, and the alleged father has no interest in participating in the child’s life, the Department of Revenue will assist with genetic testing without the cost of going to court. If, however, the father wants an active role in the child’s life, the paternity dispute would need to be settled in court. The judge would order the mother, alleged father, and child to submit biological samples to a qualified laboratory for analysis. Results that state the statistical probability the man is the father by 95 percent or higher creates a presumption of paternity that can only be challenged with additional testing. Once paternity is established, the mother can petition the court for a child support order, and the father would have right to ask the court for custody and visitation rights.
Putative Father Registry
Finally, if man believes a woman is pregnant with his child, but they are unmarried, and he is worried she will give the child up for adoption without his knowledge, Florida has a registry he can access to preserve his rights. The Florida Putative Father Registry allows the unmarried man to add his name to registry, which means he is claiming paternity, so that he preserves his right to receive notice of any impending adoption. With this information, the man can oppose adoption and seek custody of the child if he so desires. Importantly, he can claim paternity at any time before the child’s birth, but this right terminates once a petition to terminate parental rights is filed.
Whether you need to establish paternity for child support purposes or to claim parental rights, work with a family law attorney on this issue to ensure your legal rights are fully protected. The All Family Law Group, P.A. in Tampa is highly experienced in these matters, and can advise you on your options. 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+