It may seem pretty obvious that when a man fathers a child, he is that child’s legal father, and there is nothing to question. Actually, it’s not that simple. In the state of Florida, “paternity” is the term used for a child’s legal father. If a child’s parents are married at the time of that child’s birth, then the father is the child’s legal, paternal parent without question. If the parents aren’t married at the time of the child’s birth, things get more complicated.
When a child’s parents are not married, the father has no automatic, legal claim to the child, even if no one is disputing that he is the natural father.
How to Establish Paternity in the State of Florida
If the parents are unmarried at the time of the child’s birth, but the father is present at the hospital when the child is born, the parents can fill out a Paternity Acknowledgment form. The man will immediately be recognized as the legal father once the form is filled out. The hospital will provide a notary to verify the form, and the father’s name will be added to the birth certificate.
If two biological parents who haven’t filled out a Paternity Acknowledgment decide to get married later on, the father will automatically become the legal father. He will not, however, be added to the birth certificate. When parents apply for their marriage license, they may also give, under oath, a written statement to the Clerk of Court. The court will give them an Affirmation of Common Child(ren) Born in Florida form. Once this form is submitted and processed, the State will add the father to the birth certificate.
Perhaps the father wasn’t present for the birth, and the mother and he remain unmarried. In this case, each parent can fill out an Acknowledgement of Paternity form (note that this is not the same form that is used at the birth). The parents need to have the form witnessed or notarized. After it is filled out, the parents send it to the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics, where the Bureau will put the father’s name on the birth certificate.
However, this is where things can get tricky. If the mother was married to someone other than the biological father at the time of birth, the biological father can’t just fill out a form. If this man wants to be acknowledged as the child’s legal father, it might be time to go to court.
If both parents agree to the father’s legal paternity, they will still need to go to court, but they can sign a consent order beforehand. The judge will use this as the final order. What if the mother wants to contest paternity? In that case, the matter will have to go to court, and the judge will make a decision. The judge will hear the case and either award or deny paternity. The court has the power to order a paternity test, if necessary, and one or both parents may be responsible for the cost.
Luckily, the Child Support Program in Florida may be able to help parents avoid court altogether. With everyone’s consent, the Program will pay to have the mother, father, and child genetically tested. When the results confirm that the man is the father, the Program will file an Administrative Order of Paternity to have the father’s name added to the birth certificate.
Why Should Someone Establish Paternity?
With all of that complicated paperwork, and with all those legal loopholes, why bother going through the process if everyone is happy and getting along? Well, there may come a day when not everyone is happy, and no one is working together. A biological father who wants to be in his child’s life needs legal protection.
Without overtly establishing paternity, a man may have no legal claim to his own child. He has no visitation rights. He has no say in the raising of the child. He won’t be asked to contribute through child support. Legally, he has no connection to his own offspring.
Establishing paternity gives the father basic parental access to the child. Depending on any legal agreements or court orders, the father will have visitation rights. He will have decision-making authority. As long as this person is considered the legal father of the child, he will have paternal rights.
A legal father will also have greater ability to protect his child. He can add a child to his health insurance. He can pass on veteran’s, Social Security, and life insurance benefits in the event of his death. Because he is legally attached to the child, he can claim the child as family and pass along his wealth.
A child can benefit from their biological father’s medical history when they are legally attached to their dad. Knowing who the father is and having access to that information will help if the child needs background information on health issues.
Finally, there is an emotional and psychological benefit to establishing paternity. Even when there is no need for legal or medical protections, there will be no uncertainty about who is family. A man and his child can be comforted knowing that they are officially joined.