In today’s world, children born outside of marriage are becoming more and more common. This can cause complications if the relationship between the mother and father end. This may also make it difficult for fathers to exercise their rights to see their children and participate in parenting.
In Florida, for children who are born out of wedlock, fathers have no rights until they file a paternity action and ask for rights. Florida Statute 744.301 states the mother of a child born out of wedlock is the natural guardian of the child and is entitled to primary residential care and custody of the child unless the court enters an order stating otherwise.
What does this mean? In simple words, the mother of your child can pack her bags and move with your child to the South Pole and there is nothing you can do about it. To stop the mother of your child from moving, and to have any say in your child’s life, you, as the father, have to file a paternity action with the court.
What is a Paternity Action?
For beginners, we need to understand the difference between establishing paternity and obtaining legal rights. Paternity can be established without granting legal rights to the father.
For example, the father can acknowledge paternity by signing the birth certificate of the child. This will only establish that the father is the biological father of the child and it will give no legal rights. A paternity action must be filed by the father in order to then obtain legal rights.
A paternity action can also be filed by the Florida Department of Revenue to establish paternity and obtain child support. Usually, the Department of Revenue gets involved at the request of the mother or if the mother is seeking public assistance (for example, in the form of food stamps). If this happens, the state (through the Department of Revenue) is required to go after the father for child support. This process does not establish any legal rights for the father.
In both of these situations, as a father, you only have responsibilities to the child in the form of child support, but have no legal rights to the joy of raising and participating in the upbringing of the child. This is why establishing legal rights through a paternity action is so important.
What are Legal Rights and Legal Paternity?
Legal paternity gives the father rights to the child in the form of parental responsibilities and time-sharing.
Parental responsibility is a legal term that means you have all the legal rights, duties, powers and responsibilities for the child. Having parental responsibility for a child means that you are responsible for, and have the right to be consulted about, the child’s health, education and welfare. This includes the ability to provide input in many areas of a child’s life including: what school the child should go to, what medical doctors to see, access to the child’s school and health records, the right to participate in the child’s religious upbringing, and so forth.
Time-sharing is the equivalent of physical custody of the child. With a time-sharing schedule, the father has his set week days, vacation, and holidays that he will share with the child.
Establishing Legal Rights Through a Paternity Action
When a father files a paternity action, a judge will make an order that is in the best interest of the child. However, many cases are resolved at mediation, which is the preferred way of coming to a resolution.
Through mediation, the parents meet with a certified mediator to come to an agreement that is in the best interest of the child. As parents of the child, you will know more than anyone the best interests of the child and your family.
A judge will make a decision based on what is heard at a final hearing. Sometimes, what the judge feels is in the best interest of the child may not be what you as the father feels is in the best interest of his family.
Rights & Benefits for the Child
Many fathers are aware of the importance of being present in their child’s life. When paternity is established, the rights and benefits for the child greatly exceed just that of involvement.
Commonly known benefits for the child:
-Time with their Father
-Ability for the Father to have input in decisions regarding the child
Other benefits for the child:
-Information on family medical history
-Knowing the identity of his or her father
-Father’s name on the birth certificate
-Social Security or veteran’s benefits, military allowances and inheritances
Florida law on paternity is not easy. It has many rules and procedures, and you should not do it alone. The process can be stressful, but the outcome in most cases is very rewarding. How wonderful is it for a father to establish legal rights to his child, and no mother can then pack her bags and move to the South Pole without your permission or a judge’s order.
Establishing paternity can be a complex task and it is best to consult with an experienced family law attorney to make sure that all parties understand their legal rights and responsibilities.
If you believe that you are the father of a child and need assistance through the legal maze of paternity, we look forward to serving you. In contrast, if you do not believe you are the father and wish to contest paternity, we can help you through that process as well.
Seff & Capizzi Law Group understands the importance of family in today’s world, and we can analyze your case to determine the course of action that will be best for you and the child involved.