In the legal sense, paternity is the official establishment of the father of a child, which includes all the legal rights and responsibilities intrinsic to fatherhood. With the possible exception of rare and unusual surrogacy situations, there is almost never a need to establish maternity or motherhood of a child since it is usually quite clear who the mother is due to the nature of birth.
Paternity can be much more complex since the biological father is not inherently obvious. There are a wealth of reasons that one would need to establish paternity, the results of which can have a major impact on the child, the mother, and the father as well.
An establishment of paternity can help provide the child with family medical history, health and life insurance, financial support, and a right to inheritances and other benefits like such as military or social security. For the mother and father, an establishment of paternity gives each the right to get child support, get visitation or custody rights, and have a say in legal decisions about the child.
In the State of Florida, there are five ways to legally establish paternity.
- Marriage – If a man is married to the mother when a child is born, he is, for all intents and purposes, legally considered the father of the child. No further action need be taken to officially establish paternity if the couple is married.
- Acknowledgment of paternity – An unmarried couple can jointly sign a legal document after the child is born that states they both acknowledge that the male signatory is the father of the child. This can be completed in the hospital following the birth, or at a later date, and officially bestows the legal rights and responsibilities of fatherhood upon the male party. This method cannot be used if the mother is married at the time of birth.
- Court order – In cases where the fatherhood of the child is disputed, it may be necessary to get a court order from a judge that legally establishes the paternity of the child. The judge will hear evidence regarding the “alleged father,” and will then decide whether or not to establish paternity. He or she may choose to require genetic testing to prove the parentage of the child.
- Administrative order based on genetic testing – Also known as a DNA test, the genetic test entails swabbing the inside of the mouths of the alleged father and the child, and sending the samples to a genetic testing lab to determine whether the alleged father is actually the biological father of the child. If the test determines that he is, in fact, the natural father of the child, an administrative order can be issued to legally establish paternity.
- Legitimation – When an unmarried couple has a child, and later gets married, Florida law presumes the husband to be the legal father once the marriage is official. However, in order to be added to the child’s birth certificate as the father, the parents must send documentation to the Florida Office of Vital Statistics including a marriage certificate, an acknowledgment of paternity, and an “Affirmation of Common Child Born in Florida.”
Establishing paternity can be a complex and sensitive situation. No matter the circumstances, it is important that you utilize the counsel and guidance of an experienced family law attorney. If you are involved in a paternity dispute, or you need to establish or refute a paternity claim, contact the Law Office of Joseph Cerino today!