Divorce Attorney Scott J. Stadler

    • 20 AUG 15

    Should I File a Paternity Case?

    Mother and father kissing babyIn Florida, paternity over a child is generally established at birth. Children born to a married couple are presumed to be the children of the two spouses in a marriage. There are times, however, such as when the father and mother of the minor child are unmarried, where the paternity may not be established at birth. In these situations, it would be necessary for the non-legal parent to file a petition with the court requesting a paternity determination between the petitioner and the child. While there are some fathers who may be weary of filing a paternity case due to child support issues, the benefits of filing a paternity case far outweigh the drawbacks to a dedicated parent.

    Disadvantages of Not Filing for Paternity

    One of the biggest disadvantages to not being the legal parent of a child is the complete and utter lack of control an individual has over the development and growth of the child. If you are not the legal father of your child due to marital issues at the time of the child’s birth, then the mother of the child will have complete control over what the child learns, where the child lives, and how the child will be raised.

    While this may not seem too problematic to some people, there are plenty of situations in which the legal parent may choose to alienate the child from the non-legal parent through verbal and physical manipulation.

    For example, in a case between two divorced parents who are legally held to be the parents of a minor child and who have established a time-sharing and parenting plan with the court, the parent that spends the most time with the child would be prohibited by the court from interfering with the parent-child relationship between the other parent and the child. In addition, the parent with primary custody over the child would be unable to make certain decisions for the child, such as approve surgery, change schools, and move out of state, without the consent of the other parent.

    On the other hand, in the case where only one parent has legal paternity, the non-legal parent would be unable to maintain any rights over the child. Not only could the legal parent restrict the non-legal parent from visiting the minor child, but the legal parent would be within her rights to move out of the state, further separating the child and non-legal parent.

    Advantages of Filing a Paternity Case

    While some fathers may be hesitant about filing a paternity case, filing for paternity is a simple and relatively speedy process. While the typical paternity case will involve a parenting plan and support plan, which would involve both parents appearing before the court, it is possible to make a simple agreement and court order establishing the non-legal parent as a legal parent. Once that is done, that parent will have rights to the child equal to that of the other parent, provided there are no additional reasons to restrict the time a parent spends with a child.

    Not only will a child benefit from having a father involved in his or her life, but the child may also obtain several benefits, both federal and otherwise. For example, if the father is disabled or a veteran, then the child may be eligible to receive government benefits. In addition, the child may be eligible to receive health care benefits through the father’s health insurance.

    Filing Your Paternity Case

    In Florida, there are five ways to establish paternity over a child. The first way is through marriage, and requires that the child be born during the existence of a valid marriage. The next option is via acknowledgment, where an unmarried couple signs a legal document in the hospital when the child is born. The next way to obtain parentage is through an administrative order based on genetic testing. Next is the matter of legitimization, in which the mother and natural father get married after the birth of the child and update the child’s birth records through the Florida Office of Vital Statistics. The final way to obtain parentage over a child is via court order in paternity court.

    Under Florida law, a paternity action may be initiated by the following people:

    • The mother of the minor child
    • The “alleged father,” or the man who believes he is the father
    • A legal representative acting on behalf of the minor child
    • The Florida Department of Revenue

    Even though parties can enter into a paternity case before the birth of the child, no order or judgment can be made until the birth of the child. Typically, a party will only resort to filing a paternity case if there is some dispute as to the parentage of the minor child. Regardless of that, it is still important for fathers without legal parentage to file paternity cases, not just to be closer to their children, but also to have a say in the growth and development of the child.