According to data gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of children born in America are delivered by unmarried mothers. The “nonmarital” birth rate has actually fallen in recent years; a decade ago, the figure was close to 50 percent.
Under Florida law, when a married mother gives birth, the law presumes that the husband is the child’s father. When the mother is unmarried at the time of the child’s birth, paternity must be established, either voluntarily or through a court order.
Establishing Paternity Can Be Vital to Child’s Interests
In most cases, establishing paternity benefits all who are involved: The child, the mother, and the father. Some of those benefits are:
- Economic – It is a tough world out there. Providing for the needs of a child or children based solely on the financial strength of an unmarried mother is difficult – some say impossible. Establishing paternity typically doubles the economic chances that the child will receive adequate support. A formal child support order can be entered. The parties can take advantage of hospitalization coverage in many cases. Establishing paternity helps eliminate some of the “unknowns” in life.
- Psychological – Establishing paternity provides the child with a clear understanding of his or her origins. Even where the parents are not married, the child can gain confidence and strength from the knowledge that two adults are on his or her side. Establishing paternity is also usually psychologically beneficial for the mother and father. The former understands that she isn’t facing an uncertain future alone. The latter understands that he has obligations, but he also has rights of visitation and timesharing. He must also be consulted regarding important issues in the child’s life.
Voluntary Establishment of Paternity
In many cases, the mother and father establish the paternity of the child voluntarily. In Florida, this is typically done with a “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity” form. When both parents sign this document, they formally acknowledge that the designated man is the child’s legal father, and they swear under oath that the information is true. The acknowledgement becomes final 60 days after it has been signed. When that time period has expired, neither parent may generally revoke it.
Involuntary Establishment of Paternity
Where there is no voluntary acknowledgment, either the mother or the “purported father” may proceed to court to establish paternity. Establishment of paternity can even begin before the birth of the child; the court cannot formalize the issue until the child is actually born. The court generally depends upon genetic testing to establish paternity rights. After those rights have been determined, the court may enter orders for the child’s benefit, including:
- Child Support payments
- Establishment of health insurance coverage
- Court decisions related to timesharing, visitation and other childcare issues
- Payment of attorney’s fees in appropriate situations
Legal Counsel Can Be Crucial in Getting Appropriate Support for a Child
Some Floridians think that the establishment of paternity is essentially a medical issue. They have seen television shows where a quick DNA test establishes the father’s identity. Both parents should recognize that the “identify” of the father is only one piece in the puzzle of establishing a solid future for the child. Important practical, economic, and legal issues remain. In most situations, legal representation is required. The Duval/St. Johns County area law firm of Beller & Bustamante, P.L. has the experience and knowledge to guide you through the legal maze that can exist within Florida courts. We can represent your interests vigorously when it comes to paternity, child support, a divorce, or any other family law issue. Contact us online or call us at (904) 288-4414 today.