A primer on the Florida paternity process

Ideally, every child would have two parents who provide comfort, support, encouragement and unconditional love. Those parents would always agree on the best way to raise their children, and all decisions about housing, education, religion, medical treatment and other key issues would always be made with the child's best interests at heart. In such a perfect world, children would never know what it is like to be hungry, alone, tired, disappointed or burdened, and there would never be the need for court involvement to guide the parenting process.

Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world. In reality, sometimes the court does need to get involved. This could be because the parents are divorcing, one parent alleges that the other is unfit, or no legal father has been named for a child. If fatherhood is at issue, Florida law provides a way to resolve the issue and ensure that a legal father is named: the paternity process set forth in Florida Statutes Section 742.10.

It is important to note that the child's legal father must be established in order for the child to be eligible for child support payments, health insurance coverage (provided by the father), intestacy inheritance rights, and workers' compensation or veterans' survivor benefits.

The paternity process

Under the law, paternity is automatically established if the mother and father are married at the time of the baby's birth. Should the parents not be married, the child doesn't have a legal father unless some action is taken. There are different ways in which paternity can be established, though, ranging in level of difficulty and effort required. The easiest way - aside from being married to the child's mother when the child is born - is to sign an affidavit or stipulation voluntarily acknowledging paternity at the hospital (or afterwards) and filing it with the local clerk of court.

If a putative father (someone the mother has told the court is the child's father) disputes paternity, then it may become necessary for either a judge to make a determination about paternity following a hearing where evidence is presented or to order genetic testing. In some cases, a judge may make a determination after meeting the child and the parents, viewing pictures, examining the timeframes of the couple's relationship (particularly if they were once married and have now divorced) and hearing testimony. In other instances, it is necessary for paternity to be established scientifically through DNA testing the child and both parents.

Regardless of the method, it is important for both your child's sake and your own that your child have a named father; even if a relationship between father and child isn't possible now, just having a legal father established might present the opportunity for a relationship between the two in the future. In addition, having a father named allows you to seek child support and other benefits on behalf of your child. Conversely, if you are the father, establishing paternity will give you the right to seek child custody or visitation.

Getting started

Do you need help establishing the paternity of your child? Are you a putative father being asked to accept paternity of a child who isn't yours? Would you like to ask your child's other parent for child support but need to name a legal father before such action can take place? For help with any of these, and for answers to all your paternity-related questions, consult a Florida family law attorney today.