The Point of Establishing Paternity
All parents have an obligation to financially support their children, regardless of the relationship status with the other parent. When parents are married or living together, this support comes as a natural part of caring for members of the same household. But when divorce or separation occurs, financial assistance that was once a given may become a dispute. Only individuals considered to be a child’s legal parents have this financial obligation. For women who give birth, outside of surrogacy, establishing parentage is quite simple and automatic, but for men, the process of becoming a child’s legal father can be more complicated, and requires paternity be established. Married men are automatically presumed to be a child’s father, and the rights and obligations of this designation descend on him as soon as the child is born. Unmarried men do not receive the same treatment, and paternity must be established through an administrative procedure or court order before the law will recognize him in this role. Not all men are eager to take on the child support obligations that come with paternity, despite the custody rights that may also come with this status, and may contest a paternity claim by a woman until evidence is produced that conclusively establishes his biological connection to the child. Professional baseball player Miguel Cabrera is currently in the middle of a paternity suit with a woman who claims he fathered her two children, and asserts she is only attempting to extort him. While false accusations are much rarer than often claimed, both parties have an interest in understanding what paternity means, and how to legally establish it.
What Is a Father?
All children, by necessity, have a biological father. However, it cannot be said that all children have a legal father. Children born to unwed mothers do not automatically have legal fathers, and while ultimately, most fathers are biologically and legally tied to their child, that is not always the case. For example, if a woman is impregnated by another while married, or marries a man who is not the child’s father before giving birth, the husband is nevertheless the legal father despite not having a genetic connection. Further, if a man holds himself out as the child’s father and takes on the duties and obligations of this role, while knowing he is not biologically related to the child, a court may still say he is the child’s legal father and is responsible for supporting him/her.
The easiest and most straightforward method of establishing paternity is for both parents to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity, and file the form with the Office of Vital Statistics. This form is often completed at the hospital when the child is born, but may be executed at a later time. Signing this form signifies agreeing to be the child’s natural parents, and to assume the rights and responsibilities of this position. Once the form is submitted, paternity is legally established after 60 days have passed, unless one party requests it be cancelled. Note that for the form to have the desired effect, it must be signed by the parents in the presence of two witnesses or a notary public. Thus, some formality is required to make the acknowledgement valid. However, signing this form, by itself, does not establish the timesharing schedule nor the correct child support amount to be paid for the minor child(ren).
Paternity Court Action
Another option, and one commonly pursued by mothers to collect child support, is to file a paternity action in court, though either parent can initiate court involvement. Fathers who file for paternity are typically seeking to enforce custody rights. Judges evaluate these claims based on evidence related to the existence of a relationship and/or genetic testing. Genetic testing is the gold standard, and if the results come back showing a 95 percent or greater probability of a biological match, the law presumes the man is the child’s father, but the father can challenge this supposition. A Paternity action deals with all aspects related to the child, including but not limited to, parental responsibility, timesharing, child support as well as other issues specific to the case.
Consult a Florida Family Law Attorney
Establishing paternity has many significant legal ramifications, and a family law attorney should be consulted if there is any concern or doubt about the father’s identity. The Orlando law firm of Goodblatt · Leo handles a wide variety of family law matters, including paternity claims, and can help you obtain the support or parental rights you deserve. Contact us to schedule a consultation.