Why every Florida father should establish paternity

Establishing paternity in Florida ensures that a father has rights to his child.

Legally establishing paternity in Florida is important for the father, mother and child. Each party can benefit in some way. For example, the child can have access to his or her medical records through knowing the father's family history. Additionally, a child would be eligible for certain benefits, such as Social Security.

When it comes to the fathers, especially those who are unmarried to the child's mother, establishing paternity can open the door to certain rights. Without taking this step, a father could lose the ability to even visit with his child. And if a biological father fails to register with the putative father registry or make a paternity claim, the child may be placed for adoption without his consent.

What does establishing paternity do?

According to state law, a man can establish his paternity through filing a form with the Department of Vital Statistics, with the mother's cooperation. He can also register a claim with Florida's Putative Father Registry. This could grant him rights to be notified of the proposed adoption of the child, and in some cases, to gain or share custody. It should be noted that these forms imply the man's willingness to support the child financially, but also might make him eligible to receive child support if his case merits it.

How is fatherhood determined in Florida?

There are a number of ways that the parents of a child can establish paternity. For example, the Florida Department of Revenue points out that if a child's parents are married at the time of his or her birth, the husband is presumed to be the legal father. If the parents are not wed, then one of the following must take place:

  • The parents both sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form when the child is born or anytime afterward.
  • The parents eventually wed, establishing paternity when they apply for the marriage license.
  • The Department of Revenue orders genetic testing based on a request for child support, and establishes paternity administratively.
  • The mother requests a paternity order, and a judge orders DNA testing as a result of a court hearing.

What does genetic testing involve?

When paternity testing is ordered through the Department of Revenue or a court, then the child, mother and alleged father will all have to provide DNA samples. In many cases, these tests are noninvasive, requiring merely a cotton swab of the inside of each person's mouth. The parties can choose the testing facility they wish to use, and will need to present photo ID. Pictures may be taken for verification of the parties present for the testing.

The Department of Revenue reports that the process takes roughly 30 minutes, and the results will take about two weeks to process. The tests are highly reliable, which is why if they identify a man as the father, the final paternity order will be established.

Genetic testing to determine whether a man is the father of the child is an important step, but it is not always appropriate or available in every case. If paternity was already established through a court or by the parents' voluntary acknowledgment, then genetic testing cannot be ordered unless the father files a petition for disestablishment of paternity. A father seeking to disestablish must present sufficient evidence to the Court to support his belief/reason that the child is not likely his. A married father must also show how disestablishing his paternity will be in the child's best interests. If the couple voluntarily does the DNA testing and the results of paternity are negative, then a petition to disestablish must be filed within sixty (60) days of testing, or the relief is barred.

The father-child relationship is a precious one that should be protected, and establishing paternity is an important first step of doing just that. People who have concerns regarding this issue should speak with a family law attorney in Florida.