When a child’s parents haven’t married, the father may need to be identified for several important reasons. If you become involved in a paternity dispute in South Florida, you’ll need the advice and representation that a Boca Raton family law attorney can provide.
Determining paternity identifies a child’s legal father and establishes the rights of the mother, father, and child. How is paternity determined by a Florida court? If you’re a father, what will you have to do to prove that your child really is your child?
If you’re the mother, can you ask a Florida court to compel the father to submit to a DNA test? What should you know about establishing paternity if you are a child’s mother or father – or if you have been wrongly accused of being a child’s father?
If you’ll keep reading this brief introduction to paternity and the law in Florida, those questions will be answered, and you’ll learn more about how paternity is established and the rights of parents in our state.
Why Should Paternity Be Established for Every Child?
Perhaps the most important reason to establish a child’s paternity is the benefits that a child will receive, including:
- knowing who his or her father is
- having family medical history information
- having the father named on the child’s birth certificate
- having the financial support of both parents
- having the right to the father’s VA or Social Security benefits
Additionally, establishing paternity also gives each parent the legal right to seek a child support order from the court or to request a court order for parenting time with the child.
Methods for Establishing Paternity
Paternity is established in one of several ways in Florida. The easiest way for unmarried parents to establish paternity is at the hospital when their child is born. If paternity is not established at birth, it may be established later, voluntarily or by a court order.
Unmarried parents may sign a “Paternity Acknowledgment” form (Form DH-511) at the hospital. Both parents should sign the form in the presence of the hospital’s notary public. Signing a Paternity Acknowledgment at the hospital is the simplest and quickest way to establish paternity when the parents are not married.
A man who signs the Paternity Acknowledgment form at the time of the child’s birth is the legal father the moment the form is complete, and his name will go on the birth certificate.
Establishing Paternity After a Child’s Birth
If the child’s parents are unmarried at the time of the child’s birth, but they marry later, the husband becomes the legal father. However, the father’s name is not automatically added to the birth certificate by marriage alone.
To place the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate after marriage, the parents must sign an “Affirmation of Common Child(ren) Born in Florida” form (Form DH-743A) or provide a statement in writing and under oath to the Clerk of Court when they apply for a marriage license.
If they do not marry, after the child is born and at any time before the child reaches age 18, the parents may establish paternity by signing an “Acknowledgment of Paternity” form (Form DH-432) in the presence of a notary public or two witnesses.
If Paternity Cannot Be Established Voluntarily
If a child’s father does not voluntarily cooperate to establish paternity, paternity may be established with legal action in a Florida court. A parent who wants to establish paternity will need to have a Boca Raton paternity lawyer file the paternity request with the court.
Your lawyer will ask the court to establish paternity, and until paternity is established, the court will refer only to the “alleged” father.
What Happens at a Paternity Hearing?
A judge will hear both sides of the case and consider the evidence before issuing a court order to establish paternity.
Both parents must appear at a paternity hearing. If an alleged father was notified of the hearing but does not appear in court, the judge may “default” the alleged father and establish his paternity even in his absence.
The court may also order genetic testing to obtain evidence of paternity. One or both of the parents may be ordered to pay for genetic testing and for any additional court costs arising from the paternity hearing.
However, if the parents agree to establish legal paternity before the paternity hearing is conducted, they may sign a consent order that will be adopted by the court as the final paternity order.
How Does Genetic Testing Work?
Mothers are not the only persons who may need to have a court establish paternity. If someone alleges that you are a child’s father, and you’re not – or if you’re unsure – you have the right to request a DNA test to settle the matter, and you also have the right to seek an attorney’s help.
You may know that deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the primary component of chromosomes and the carrier of genetic information. Matching a child’s DNA against an adult’s can indicate if the adult is the child’s biological parent.
After Paternity Is Established
When paternity has been established, a father has legal parental rights and responsibilities. He may seek visitation and custody privileges and may be ordered by the court to make (or even in some cases receive) payments for child support.
After paternity is established, a father in Florida is obligated by law to contribute to the financial support of his child. Both parents are obligated under Florida law to contribute to child support, and legal penalties may be imposed when a parent fails to support his or her child.
If you are a mother who needs to receive child support, if you are not or were not married to the father, and if the father will not voluntarily make child support payments, the court may require you to establish paternity first, before you can seek payments from the father for child support.
When Should You Contact a Boca Raton Paternity Lawyer?
Get the legal help you need for yourself and your child and schedule a consultation as quickly as possible with a Boca Raton family law attorney if:
- You need to establish a child’s paternity for any reason.
- You need legal advice and/or representation in a paternity case.
- You’re involved or expect to be involved in a child support or child custody dispute.