More and more people are having children together outside of a traditional marriage. In situations where a non-marital relationship results in the birth of one or more children, a paternity action is the vehicle by which the parties’ rights and obligations to their children are established when the relationship comes to an end. A paternity action may be started by a Mother who is seeking child support from the child’s Father, or may be started by a Father who is seeking a time-sharing schedule from the child’s Mother.
It is important to note that Florida law does not favor one parent over another, even in paternity cases. The child’s mother does not have superior rights to the child’s father, and she should consult with an attorney early on (in the case where there is no ongoing relationship to be preserved) to inform herself of her rights and obligations. For unwed fathers, it is even more important to be informed about your rights and responsibilities.
The duty to support a child begins with the child’s conception. If you are a man who believes that he may be the father of a woman’s unborn child, you should know that you can be held responsible for your share of the child’s prenatal care and medical costs. This is your child, and if you are interested in the Courts upholding your rights as a father, you will need to demonstrate a desire and willingness to support that child from its very conception. Failure to give that support can be considered against you in any future paternity action, and could impact the amount of time the Court determines you will spend with your child.
Of course, in some cases, actual paternity is in dispute. You may not believe that you are the Father of the unborn child. You will have an ability to challenge that paternity by a DNA test, but not until after the child is born can you compel the test against the mother’s wishes. There is a small risk to an unborn child of a prenatal DNA test, and the mother cannot be compelled to undergo the test until after the child is born. If the DNA test proves that you are not the Father, then you are relieved of any obligations.
If you believe that you may be a father to someone’s unborn child, but you know that you want to protect your parental rights should it turn out to be the case, then you must register with the Putative Father Registry.
A Claim of Paternity may be filed at any time prior to the child's birth BUT a claim of paternity may not be filed after the date a petition is filed for termination of parental rights. A Petition for Termination of Parental Rights is usually filed as part of an Adoption proceeding. Therefore, the only way to ensure that your unborn child is not put up for adoption by the Mother is to register with the State of Florida’s Putative Father Registry.
The child's birth record is not impacted by the Father’s registration, and if the father wishes to be listed on the birth record as father, he must have the mother's agreement or seek an order from a court. There are statutory provisions for voluntary paternity acknowledgment by both parents.
A man is presumed to be the biological father if:
- The minor was conceived or born while the father was married to the mother;
- The minor is his child by adoption;
- The minor had been established by court proceeding to be his child;
- He has filed an affidavit of paternity by acknowledging paternity in conjunction with the child's mother at the hospital at the time of child's birth or by subsequently filing an acknowledgement of paternity in conjunction with the child's mother with the State Office of Vital Statistics both of which constitutes the establishment of paternity as provided for in section 742.10, Florida Statutes. (in other words, if he signs the birth certificate!)
The signing of the birth certificate is an acknowledgement of paternity that creates a rebuttable presumption that the man is the father of the child. That single act of signing the birth certificate gives the putative father all of the responsibilities of parenthood, including child support, but endows him with none of the rights of parenthood. So don’t think that you’re “in the clear” just because you did or did not sign the birth certificate.
If you believe you are the father of a child whose mother is married to someone else, you cannot challenge the paternity of the child to claim it as yours unless the mother’s husband consents, or unless you can prove that the marriage was not intact at the time of conception. Public policy of this State favors maintaining a child’s status as legitimate over the rights of a putative father, and there is a presumption that a child born during a marriage is a legitimate child of that marriage. If the mother’s husband is willing to raise that child and support it, and give it that legitimacy that the law favors, you will be unable to establish any parental rights to that child.
In many respects, a paternity action progresses much like a divorce action. The major difference is that there is no property to distribute, no alimony considerations, and no division of liabilities. The only issues that will need to be determined are child support, (including health insurance and day care expense, along with uncovered medical/dental bills) and a time-sharing schedule. Financial records and information will have to be disclosed, and mediation will likely be the place where the details are settled.