When a married woman gives birth, Florida law assumes that the child’s father is the mother’s husband. In the absence of a marriage between a man and a woman, however, there exists no presumption that a particular man is the father of a baby according to Florida paternity law. Consequently, when a single woman gives birth, the paternity of a child must be established.
Establishing paternity can occur in one of two ways in the state of Florida. First, a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity can occur. Second, paternity can be established through judicial proceedings.
The easiest way to establish the paternity of a child is through voluntary acknowledgement by the mother and father. Both parties must sign what is called a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form.
The form specifically states that both the birth mother and the specifically identified putative father (or presumed father) freely and voluntarily acknowledge that the man is the true father of the child.
A Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity does not take full force and effect for a period of 60 days after both parties sign the instrument. During this time period, either the mother or father can withdraw a signature and acknowledgement of paternity.
Once the 60 day time period passes, the acknowledgement of paternity is final. After this time period, it is very difficult to get this acknowledgment of paternity set aside. In fact, if a party wants to revoke a paternity acknowledgement after this time period, a court order is necessary. Obtaining a court order requires a demonstration that the acknowledgement was signed by a party because of fraud or extreme force.
Courts in Florida are always reluctant to set aside a paternity determination. Stability of familial relationships and permanency is considered to be in the best interests of a minor child, according to Florida law and court decisions.
Commencing Court Proceedings to Establish Paternity
A number of different scenarios exist in which court proceedings are necessary to establish the paternity of a child. Oftentimes, a birth mother initiates proceedings when a putative father is unwilling to enter into an agreement voluntarily acknowledging paternity. On the other hand, there are cases in Florida where a putative father will exert his paternity rights and play a role in the life of a child he believes to be his own.
If paternity is not voluntarily established, and neither parent initiates a court action to do so, the Florida Department of Child Support Services may start the judicial process. This can happen when governmental agencies are providing financial and other types of support to the mother and child. The objective is typically to ensure that the father provides appropriate support to the child.
In some instances, when no other party acts to establish paternity, the minor child will initiate court proceedings of his or her own accord. Because of the child’s age, this process will be started on his or her behalf by an appropriate legal representative.
Paperwork to start a judicial proceeding to establish paternity is filed in the circuit court. The initial documents filed with the court not only request a determination regarding paternity, but other orders from the court as well. These can include orders establishing child support, a formal custody arrangement and setting visiting with the non-custodial parent, who usually is the father.
One exception exists in regard to the supplemental orders from the court in a paternity case. If the Florida Department of Child Support Services commences the proceedings, the only two orders it can seek are one establishing paternity and one setting the child support obligation. In such a situation, one or another of the parents would need to request additional orders from the court regarding issues like parenting time for the noncustodial parent.
DNA Testing in Paternity Cases
DNA testing commonly plays a significant role in paternity cases. Once a case commences, the court usually will order DNA testing. Test results are used to provide the court what is virtually irrefutable evidence regarding the paternity of a child. Only in rare instances are DNA tests not the determinative factor in establishing paternity. For example, if a lab error is alleged and then demonstrated, the initial DNA results would be “thrown out” by the court. However, the court would rectify the situation by ordering a second round of testing.
Notice to Father
Once a paternity case is started, it is crucial that the putative father be given proper notice and an opportunity to be heard in court. If this occurs, and the putative father elects not to appear, the court typically enters an order establishing paternity in his absence.
Paternity Case Legal Representation
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