It is increasingly common for parents to have children outside of marriage. As a result, fathers might find their rights to see their children or participate in parenting activities challenged when a relationship ends. Other times, a woman may believe that a man is the father of her child while the man wishes to establish that he is not.
When the two parties are amicable, they are often able to resolve paternity issues out of court. But if there is a dispute concerning paternity, a paternity action may be necessary to establish the rights and obligations of the father.
In a discussion of paternity, it is useful to distinguish between the biological father of a child, and the legalfather of the child.
The biological father is the person who actually fathered the child. Sometimes this is the same person as the legal father of the child; other times it is not.
A child’s legal father is the person who has the rights and responsibilities of fatherhood with respect to the child. In many cases, the biological and legal father are the same person.
Sometimes, such as where a woman is pregnant with one man’s child but is married or becomes married to another man, one man may be the biological father while another man is the legal father.
Legal fatherhood in Florida can be established through marriage, adoption, or court ruling.
When a woman is married at the time a child is born, her husband is assumed to be the legal father of the child. This is the case even if the two were not married at the time of conception.
Paternity can also be established through legitimization, which occurs when the biological father marries the mother after the child is born.
A couple may also complete a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity. By signing this form, both parties state under oath that the supposed father is in fact the child’s father. Signing this form gives the father all the legal rights and responsibilities that come with fatherhood, including the right to participate in raising the child and the responsibility to provide for the child’s needs.
If both parties agree, they can consent to a genetic test to determine paternity. This process involves taking a biological sample (DNA sample) from the mother, the alleged father, and the child. The samples are analyzed in a lab and the father’s DNA is compared to the child’s DNA to determine a DNA match.
If the DNA test establishes that the man is the biological father of the child, the court will issue an order adding the father’s name to the child’s birth certificate.
When the parties do not agree about the paternity of a child, it may be necessary to file a paternity action in court.
A Florida paternity action can be initiated by:
In a Florida paternity action, the father can be held responsible for child support, retroactive child support, and birth expenses.
Under Florida Statute §742.031 the court can order the father to pay reasonable attorney’s fees, hospital or medical expenses, the cost of confinement, and any other expenses incident to the birth of a child, as well as all costs of the proceeding.
Bills for the pregnancy, birth, and scientific testing area all admissible as evidence without the need for third party testimony to authenticate the records and qualify as prima facie evidence of the amounts incurred for such services or testing.
When seeking to recover the cost of child support, retroactive child support, and birth expenses, a frequent question is whether the expenses were “appropriate.”
If an alleged father learns that he, in fact, is not the father of a child that he has been paying child support for, he can file a paternity action to challenge the child support order and the underlying conclusion that he is the legal father of the child. If the father is successful, the court will issue an order indicating that he is not the legal father of the child and will remove any obligation to pay child support.
Establishing paternity can be complicated and has significant financial and emotional risks. If paternity is in dispute, it is wise to consult with an experienced Florida paternity attorney.
The Florida law firm of Elrod & Elrod has been serving the Jacksonville metropolitan area since 1966. The firm proudly represents people throughout northeast Florida in Baker, Bradford, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, Duval, Flagler, Hamilton, Marion, Nassau, Putnam, St.Johns, Sumter, Suwannee, and Union counties.