Having children and growing your family is not always what the cinema makes it out to be. It is not always romantic, and it certainly does not run as smoothly as it may be portrayed. While it can be incredible, it can also be messy – and let’s admit it, life can be messy. But while it is definitely a blessing to have children, and quite honestly the biggest adventure of your life, the act of having children can be… well, a little interesting. 

Regardless of your relationship status (complicated marriage, unmarried, or basically a relationship built on a crazy night out with the man you swiped right on the night before) there are several legal factors that go into what determines the paternity of your child and the legal rights of the father. Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let’s touch on what paternity actually means. 

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, paternity is “the quality or state of being a father.” A paternity action is the legal proceeding that establishes the rights and obligations of the child’s father. These proceedings determine the legality of the father on a state level. This legal acknowledgment of paternity can potentially help you (the mother) petition for child support. 

That’s correct, ladies! This blog is all about who is legally recognized by the state of Florida as the father of your child. Now, we understand that you are probably thinking that the father of your child must be who you had relations (ahem… sex) with. Correct? Well that is not entirely true.

Determining The Father

Determining the paternity of the father can be broken down into two categories. The first, according to the state of Florida, is determined by if a woman gives birth and is married. This means that the legal father of a child is her husband. The second category of paternity is determined by going to court and petitioning to establish paternity with the state. But what happens when you are not married or had a child with someone other than your husband? Ooops! That got complicated…

Let’s start with the basics. In many states, including Florida, there are two types of paternity – legal and biological. That’s it, folks! That’s the tea. Let’s dive in.

Biological Father

For the most part, a biological father is pretty self-explanatory. The biological father is the man whose DNA is shared with the child. In the state of Florida, unless you are unmarried at the time of birth, there is no further action required. When married and giving birth, at least here in beautiful sun-kissed Florida, the biological father has shared rights with the mother, even if they divorce after giving birth.

This is where it gets cute. IF you are unmarried from the biological father at the time of birth, the state will NOT recognize them as a legal guardian of your child. Even though there is shared DNA, the State of Florida still requires you to petition for paternity. According to Florida statutes, the biological father can petition for paternity anytime between birth through the child’s 18th birthday. These petitions of paternity are typically determined through a genetics test.

With that, if you are unmarried and have an amicable relationship, the earlier you petition for paternity, the easier the process will be.    

Legal Father

In the state of Florida, the legal father of a child is recognized as the person who is legally responsible for the child. This person can be the biological father, an adoptive father, or even a close friend. Realistically, it can be anyone that the courts deem as the “legal” father.

This specific father has the same rights as the mother regarding custody, how the child is raised, time-sharing, and much more. In the case of divorce, regardless of whether the legal father is biological or not, you should still prepare for a custody battle because the state of Florida will see them as a legal party.

In either category, you will need to take the appropriate steps to establish the legality of your specific paternity case. People often assume that the name listed on the birth certificate at the time of birth is the legal paternal father. Unfortunately, that is not the case. During a petition for paternity, the courts will and can overturn the birth certificate. Yikes! 

Rights of the Mother

Just like any other family law case, both parties involved have a path to maneuver. If you are a single mother or your child was born out of wedlock, you automatically have full rights and custody of your child. The state of Florida tends to lean on the side of the mother, and in any court case, this gives you the upper hand. However, if you are not capable of taking care of the child on your own the Florida Department of Revenue can issue a court order to petition for paternity – especially if a mother requests government assistance.

On the flip side, if the father denies paternity, won’t sign the appropriate affidavit, or ceases communication with the mother, the mother still has options. And we like options… The mother in turn may file a court action to establish paternity. If the father does not comply, he may risk being held in contempt of court. This can lead to high fines and potential criminal charges. Once the court adjudicates the father’s paternity, the mother is entitled to retroactive child support in Florida.

Why is Establishing Paternity Important?

Establishing paternity helps you and your child navigate the intricacies of life a little easier. From child support to medical history, having an understanding of who the legal father is can help all parties. Here’s how:

  1. Financial – If you are a single mom, it can be hard to plan for your child financially. With a legal settlement with the legal father, you will be able to collect child support.
  2. Inheritance – If the legal father passes away, your child will have the opportunity to collect their benefits like social security, disability, Veteran’s benefits, and life insurance. 
  3. Medical – Establishing paternity of the biological father can help your child understand their medical history from both sides.
  4. Insurance – If the legal father can pay for health insurance, the child would be able to receive coverage through either parent. 
  5. Identity – Representation and self-identity are essential. Allowing your child to know their legal father helps them have a better understanding of themself.
  6. Relationships – No matter your feelings towards the father, your child has the right to build and establish a healthy relationship with the other parent. 

That was a lot, and we barely touched the surface. Navigating through paternity cases can be as straightforward or as complicated as either party makes it. There may be further complications if other variables are involved, like sperm donors or an attempt to disestablish their paternity. Don’t you worry, we’ll cover those situations a different day!

Hiring competent and trustworthy lawyers that possess a little flare and a little sass is critical to any family law case. For over fourteen years, Kristi McCart and Laurel Tesmer have served the Riverview, FL, and surrounding Tampa Bay areas in Marital and Family Law. If you are seeking representation and want honest answers as a team who will fight for you, you’ve come to the right place. 

Give McCart & Tesmer a call today at (813) 498-2757 or click here to drop a line and schedule your free legal consultation today.

Now go forth and be wild… but not too wild because you know, paternity! 

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