Under Florida law, paternity may be determined in two ways: (1) marriage – a child born during a marriage is presumed to be the child of the husband; or (2) establishment through the Florida courts in the form of an Establishment of Paternity case. Paternity provides rights to both a child and the parents of the child. Through paternity, a child is entitled to:
- Information on family medical history
- Child support and health insurance
- Certain relational benefits such as military allowance or social security
Similarly, a parent receives certain legal rights and is entitled to be involved in legal decisions regarding the child, to obtain child support, and to receive visitation or custody.
Establishing Paternity Through the Courts
When a child is not the product of a marriage, paternity can be established in four different ways: (1) both parties agree to paternity by signing an acknowledgement of paternity; (2) paternity is ordered after a genetic test establishes the father; (3) a judge provides a court order of paternity; or (4) the couple gets married after the child is born and provides an updated birth record to establish paternity.
Where paternity is contested, either the mother of a child, or any man who has reason to believe that he is the father of a child, may bring a petition to establish paternity before the Florida courts. Both parties will be required to attend a hearing to present evidence regarding paternity, and the judge may order genetic testing of all involved parties. If an alleged father refuses to participate in these proceedings, a court may choose to make him the “default” legal father in his absence, which will require him to pay child support, if requested by the mother.
Additionally, any male who believes he has fathered a child outside of marriage may also file with the Florida Putative Father Registry in order to place his parental rights on record. This registry requires the alleged father to consent to potential DNA testing and to state his willingness to support the child, but in exchange, the alleged father must be contacted if the child is to be put up for adoption.
In contrast to establishing paternity, a paternity petition may also be used to contest an allegation of paternity when a male believes that he is not the father of a child. This petition must be served on any current legal guardian of the child and must include an affidavit from the father alleging that he is not the biological father of the child and that new evidence supports his contention. As with establishing paternity, a disestablishment of paternity will typically rely on the results of genetic testing.