Simply defined, paternity is the quality or state of being a father, and affords certain benefits to the legal father, the mother, and the child. In the past, questions surrounding paternity were less prevalent than they are in current society, due, in part, to the rise in children born out of wedlock in recent years. At Beller & Bustamante, we understand the unique challenges faced by men and women with concerns about paternity and how each relates to the prescribed responsibilities to the child. In order to understand your rights and responsibilities in paternity, it is important to understand how paternity is established under Florida law, as well as the intricacies involved in genetic testing.
Within the state of Florida, paternity is most easily established through marriage. When the parents of a child are married prior to the child being born, paternity is naturally assumed by law to belong to the husband. However, having a child outside of marriage presents the need for paternity to be established through the court system. Under Florida law, this can be done in a number of ways:
- Acknowledgement of paternity – this is accomplished through the creation and signing of a legal document by both the mother and the assumed father when the child is born or at a later date.
- Administrative order based on genetic (paternity) testing – a court assigns paternity after a genetic test proves that a specific individual is the child’s father.
- Legitimation – after a child is born, an unwed mother and father marry and make a change to the child’s birth record to establish paternity.
Through the court system, either the mother or the supposed father can file a petition to establish paternity. Additionally, a petition may be filed by a child with legal representation or by the Florida Department of Child Support Services.
When a dispute arises as to who the father of the child is, genetic testing – also known as a paternity test or a DNA test – is a requirement. A genetic test is a scientific method used to prove whether or not an individual is a child’s father, and is completed through the collection and analysis of skin cells from the inside of the cheek. Testing begins with each participant (the mother, child, and supposed father) scheduling a testing appointment, and identifying information for each individual must be provided. The mother, father, and child are all swabbed to collect a DNA sample, and the skin cells are compared to one another to establish a possible match. The participants are contacted with the paternity results once they have been analyzed by a lab.
Rights and Responsibilities
Under Florida law, paternity testing is a requirement if an individual is seeking child support and there is a dispute as to who may be the father of the child. The determination of the amount of child support and who pays it is complex, and typically includes various considerations, such as which parent is providing medical insurance for the child and who paid how much of the medical expenses toward pregnancy costs and birth-related expenses.
If a paternity test excludes an individual from being a child’s father and child support has been paid, certain remedies are in place under Florida state law. An individual has the right to challenge paternity that was established through methods other than genetic testing, and he may be able to be reimbursed for some of the support paid for a child that was not legally his. However, the process to challenge previously-established paternity is deeply complex, and requires the expertise of an attorney well-versed in Florida state paternity laws.
Speak with Knowledgeable Family Law Attorneys in Florida
At Beller & Bustamante, we know how challenging it can be to determine paternity and the rights and responsibilities inherent to it. We work diligently for our clients to ensure they fully understand the implications of paternity testing and the responsibility to pay child support. If you have questions about your rights as a father, contact us today.