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Opinion
Plant City Observer Friday, Apr. 28, 2017 1 year ago

Good Appeal: How to establish paternity in Florida

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Shiobhan Olivero discusses voluntary acknowledgment and court orders for establishing paternity.

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 birth, paternity must be established.

If the mother and alleged father agree on who the child's father is, they can sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form.  This can be done before or after a child is born. The document assumes that the man who signs the document is the child's father, and therefore has parental rights over the child.

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. After 60 days elapses, neither parent can revoke the form. If either parent wants to revoke it, he or she must prove in court that there was fraud or extreme force was used to get the parent to sign.

Signing this form gives the father all the legal rights and responsibilities that come with being a father, including the rights of visitation, a relationship with the child and decisions in raising the child.  It also comes with the responsibility to provide support for the child’s needs.

Court Order 

If there is no voluntary acknowledgement, either the mother or the man who believes he is the father may go to court to establish paternity.  Although a paternity case can be started before the child’s birth, the court cannot enter any final orders until after the child’s birth.

A paternity action can be started by the mother of the child, the alleged father, a legal representative acting on behalf of the child or, for the purpose of establishing child support only, the Florida Department of Revenue.   

There is a distinction between the biological father and the legal father of a child under Florida law, as they may not be one in the same person. The biological father of a child is the man who fathered the child. The legal father of a child is the man recognized by the court as the child's father. He has all the legal rights and responsibilities for the child regardless of biological relation, and can be established by marriage, adoption, or court ruling.

When the mother of a child is married at the time of the child’s birth, her husband is presumed to be the legal father of the child. This is true even if the parties were not married at the time the child was conceived.  If the mother becomes pregnant while unmarried, and then marries a man prior to the birth of the child, then that man is the legal father of the child, despite who the biological father is. Further, the husband of the mother is presumed to be the legal father. 

If another man believes he is the biological father, he can bring a paternity action to become the legal father. If the judge decides that it is in the best interests of the child for the non-biological father to remain the legal father, then that will be the outcome, though subject to appeal.

This can be a complex process, and so can de-establishing paternity, which we will cover next month.

Shiobhan Olivero was born and raised in Plant City. Her law office can be reached at (813) 534-0393 or by email at [email protected]

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