Just in time for Father’s Day, Florida has introduced a new law (HB 775) making it easier for men with children born out of wedlock to gain legal parentage rights and responsibilities. Paternity and family law can be complicated; we’re here to break it down for you and explain the changes.
What Do We Mean By “Fathers’ Rights?”
There are many ways to define “Father.” Father can be a helper, a coach, a friend. However, things are much more specific when it comes to the legal definition.
When we say father’s rights, we are really referring to “paternity.” Paternity gives certain rights and responsibilities to the father of a child, who in turn must financially support the child until they turn 18 or graduates high school, so long as it is before age 19. With paternity, a father has the right to make important decisions for the child involving education, health care, religion, time-sharing, and safety, equal to that of the mother unless a court has ruled otherwise.
A father may want to establish paternity for many reasons, but most commonly, it is a biological father’s desire to be involved in his child’s life.
Why Is Establishing Paternity So Important?
Establishing paternity is important because it ensures the father’s legal rights and privileges with respect to their children.
The benefits of establishing paternity include:
- The father’s name is on the birth certificate.
- The father has a legal right to a relationship with their children and can make future parenting agreements such as custody, timesharing, and child support arrangements.
- The right to travel with the child.
- The right to consent or restrict the child’s residence changes greater than 50 miles away.
- Child’s access to paternal family health history.
- Health or life insurance coverage.
- Financial support from both parents, including child support.
- Entitlement to Social Security or veteran affairs benefits, military allowances, and inheritance both from the parent to the child and the child to the parent.
How Is Paternity Established in Florida?
There are a number of ways paternity can be established in Florida. If a mother and father are legally married to each other when the child is born, the father’s paternity is presumed. If the husband and wife were married when the wife gave birth, the husband is considered the legal and biological father of the child under Florida law, even if factually untrue.
However, if a child is born to unmarried parents, the rights of a natural guardian default to the mother. This means in the event an unmarried couple has a child, the mother would automatically have legal custody of the child – even if the father’s name is on the child’s birth certificate. If the parents were never in a relationship or have separated, the unmarried father is without any right to parent his child, even if both parents acknowledge he is the father. Further, the mother is the sole decision maker for the child and does not have to share parental responsibility until a court order is entered.
Under current state law, unwed parents who wish to establish paternity would have to sign the Acknowledgment of Paternity Form (Form DH-432) in the presence of a notary public or two witnesses, then obtain a court order from a family law circuit court to establish paternity and a parenting plan which includes time-sharing with the child.
If paternity cannot be established voluntarily, for whatever reason, the mother must go through the legal system, and a court order may be necessary to obtain a genetic test.
That is, until now.
Beginning July 1st, 2023, on the heels of Father’s Day, a new measure will go into effect granting unwed fathers the same parental rights mothers receive upon a child’s birth. The bipartisan proposal (HB 775) Gov. Ron DeSantis signed makes it so that going to court and establishing paternity is no longer required to earn the title “father” for those who are not married.
The new bill clarifies that, after the birth of a child, a parent may request a determination of parental responsibility and child support and create a parenting plan and timesharing schedule pursuant to Section 61 of the Florida Statutes.
While this will be seen as a win for some, there are others that could be negatively impacted as well.
Every Case Is Different
Every family and every family law case is different. Legally speaking, the issues of establishing parental rights, parental responsibility, timesharing, and child support can be complicated.
No matter the case McCart and Tesmer empower clients to reach constructive long-term outcomes. They understand the value of allowing clients to decide how their families will be restructured. And their support does not end when the case does. They provide clients with valuable resources for surviving and thriving post-divorce.