Men, unlike women, sometimes find themselves in difficult situations where they are unsure if they are the biological father of a child. The implications of being a dad, or of not being a dad, can have major effects on a man’s life – emotionally, financially, relationally and otherwise.
Everyone reacts differently to the fact of paternity, as well; some men want to assert their parental rights, some men are willing to contribute to the child’s welfare but want to keep distance, and some men want to dispute the alleged identification if they don’t believe they should be responsible. Some men aren’t sure what they want (which is completely understandable!).
If you are a man in a situation where you may be or may not be the father, knowing your legal rights and options can empower you to make the best choices and take hold of the life you want to live! Most men have no idea what the specific paternity procedures and custody laws even are, so here is a brief overview of how paternity is established in Florida to help you navigate the road ahead more confidently!
A couple of legal nuances to be aware of…
Legally speaking, a name on a birth certificate does not establish paternity. This is surprising to many people, both men and women; having the name of the dad on the birth certificate isn’t legally enforceable and if that’s the only “proof” of fatherhood, then paternity can be disputed later (which can lead to many problems for all parties).
The only way paternity is assumed/established automatically is if a child is born to married parents. No further action has to be taken.
3 ways paternity can be established if it is not assumed…
If a child is born to unwed parents, no matter how long they have been together or how in agreement they are that the man is the father, then paternity has to be legally established in another way. There are three other primary ways this can happen:
- Through a subsequent marriage – If unwed parents have a child and get married later, Florida law will assume that husband to be the legal father as soon as the marriage is official. If the father is not already on the birth certificate, documentation (including the marriage certificate and acknowledgement of paternity, and more) must be sent to an official Florida office in order for him to be added to the birth certificate.
- Through voluntary acknowledgement – An unwed couple can jointly sign a legal document that states both of them agree that the male is the father of the child. The document officially gives parental rights and responsibilities to the father, and it can be signed in the hospital or at a later date. Note that this is the quickest, easiest, and generally least expensive way to establish paternity in Florida, but it requires the cooperation of both parties.
- Through a court order – If paternity is disputed, the legal system may have to get involved. A judge will hear and review evidence and arguments from both sides and make a decision on what the parentage of the child is. Typically, genetic testing will need to occur if the case does go before the court (and may even need to occur to establish paternity if the case doesn’t go to court, as well).
Benefits of establishing paternity…
Especially when the circumstances are confusing, one of the biggest benefits of establishing paternity in Florida is peace of mind (for everyone involved). Particularly with genetic testing, but even with a legal document, determining who the legal father of a child is can give the mom, dad, and child clarity on how to move forward.
For the child, establishing paternity can provide information on family medical history, as well as health or life insurance from either or both parents, child support from either or both parents, Social Security and veteran’s and military benefits from either or both parents, and more.
For the parents, establishing paternity can provide each of them the right to have visitation and custody rights, including having a say in what decisions are made about the child (though the level of authority each parent has, as well as the amount of visitation time, would need to be determined by a parenting plan). It can also give the right to receive child support, the amount of which would also need to be determined, and tax benefits.
Especially for fathers, establishing paternity as soon as possible may be in your best interests if you want to be a meaningful part of your child’s life. Sadly, the relationship between the child’s mother and you may turn volatile at some point, even if it starts out amicably. In some cases, mothers have even put their babies up for adoption without notifying the baby’s father, which has caused heartbreak for the fathers, children, and adoptive families involved. Getting everything legally in order before those scenarios could occur protects you from experiencing heartbreak or a legal battle later on.
Reasons to dispute paternity…
Establishing paternity can be a sensitive issue for many men who don’t believe that they should be responsible for a child. If you have been served with a petition to determine paternity – if you are in a position where a woman is claiming that you are the father of the child – you may not want to pay child support or change your lifestyle to accommodate visitation. Particularly if you aren’t actually the biological father, but even if you believe you may be, it may be in your best interests to challenge the petition and paternity.
Trust Men’s Divorce Law Firm to help you!
Whether you want to assert or defend against your status as a father, the experienced and compassionate Orlando paternity lawyers at Men’s Divorce Law Firm can advocate for your legal rights. We will listen to your story, explain all of your options, give you strategic advice, and guide you to the best possible outcome. Our firm frequently and aggressively represents men in all sorts of paternity actions. You can rely on our experience and knowledge to give you an advantage! Call today to request a consultation and learn more about your next steps.