One of the most common questions our family law department gets is “Why is establishing paternity important?” Well, the answer is simple. Paternity has benefits for everyone involved including the mother, the father, and the child.
The child has the benefit of knowing the identity of their father as well as potentially having both parents involved in their life. Additionally, if paternity is established the child may be able to get health insurance from either parent in addition to government benefits and child support. What benefits are there for the parents? When paternity is established, the parents have legal rights to claim child support and have time-sharing with the child (previously referred to as custody in Florida).
When and how does one establish paternity?
There are different ways depending on the parents’ circumstances. If the mother is married to the father of the child at the time of birth, then paternity is automatically established by law at the time of birth. However, if the mother and father are unmarried at the time the child is born, then the parents can agree to sign a legal document that acknowledges paternity. Often times while in the hospital after birth the mother may add the father’s name to the birth certificate, but this does not legally establish paternity if the parties are unwed.
When the fatherhood of the child is disputed, establishing paternity is a bit more complicated. In that type of situation in order to establish paternity, one must get a court order establishing legal paternity. Either party may request genetic testing to prove paternity. Lastly, under Florida law, if an unmarried couple has a child and later gets married, the marriage can make the father the legal father. However, this does not mean that the father is automatically added to the child’s birth certificate if he was not on it prior to the marriage. This must be done by sending supporting documentation to the Office of Vital Statistics.
It is recommended that you advise a family law attorney of your specific scenario to make sure that you know your rights regarding paternity.
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