Navigating Paternity: How to Establish Paternity in Florida

If you are considering filing a paternity case, it is vital to understand the importance and process of establishing paternity in Florida, which must be done before moving forward with legal agreements regarding child support and custody arrangements.

In this comprehensive guide on how to establish paternity in Florida, we will discuss the various procedures and legal frameworks involved in these types of cases, including details about voluntary acknowledgment and court-ordered paternity establishment, as well as other important facts.

Paternity laws exist for the benefit of children. While these cases can be quite complex, getting informed about the facts prepares those involved and provides key information on parents’ rights and responsibilities to help their children thrive.

Understanding Paternity Laws in Florida

Figurines of parents standing next to a child, next to a gavel

Florida laws provide a strong legal framework for paternity cases, detailing the rights of individuals to pursue paternity establishment, including for the purpose of creating parenting plans and timesharing schedules.

Statute 742.011 Proceedings for determination of paternity, rights, and responsibilities; jurisdiction says that a pregnant woman, a woman who has had a child, or a man who has reason to believe he is the father of a child or any child, may bring legal proceedings in the circuit court to determine paternity when it has not been established by law or otherwise, which is important to know for women seeking child support, parenting plans, and/or timesharing schedules, as well as men seeking to secure their rights and responsibilities as a father.

Chapter 742 of the Florida Statutes has extensive information regarding the determination of parentage, including scientific testing and establishment of paternity for children born out of wedlock.

In July 2023, a new bill was added to Florida paternity laws. House Bill #775, also known as the Good Dad Act, empowers unwed fathers to actively participate in their children’s lives. Included in the bill is the ability to allow unwed fathers to establish paternity without going to court and give unwed fathers the same rights as mothers to share parental responsibility.

Steps to Establish Paternity in Florida

There are several ways that paternity can be established in the state. The type you choose depends on factors and issues in your situation.

If the parents are unmarried after the birth of a child, anytime up to 18, the mother and father can fill out and sign an official form to acknowledge paternity. Both parents must fill out and sign it in the presence of a notary public or two witnesses. The form should then be mailed to the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics. The Bureau will then change the child’s birth certificate to include the legal father’s name. (This cannot be done if the mother was married when the child was born).

In other cases, including contentious custody or paternity battles, paternity can be established by petitioning a circuit court. The judge will hear the case and the evidence, and the court may order DNA testing. When the case is concluded, paternity is determined by the judge in court.

Alternatively, the Child Support Program within the Florida Department of Revenue can help parents determine paternity without going to court – if both parties are willing to comply. DNA testing would be completed, and if the man is a biological match, an Administrative Order of Paternity would be issued, and the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics would be contacted to change the birth certificate of the child to include the legal father’s name.

How Much Does It Cost to Establish Paternity in Florida?

The financial aspects of establishing paternity include court fees, testing costs, and legal fees.

The basic filing fee for petitioning the court averages about $300 in Florida. Other fees may apply, depending on the complexity and length of the case, such as for serving fees, etc.

DNA testing costs for admissibility in court and child support average $300-$500 unless performed through the Child Support Program, which does not charge for genetic testing.

Legal fees will range in cost depending on the complexity and contentiousness of the case and whether it goes to court. Attorneys will typically either charge an hourly rate or a flat fee. Simple paternity cases may elicit hundreds of dollars in legal fees, but others involving child support, divorce negotiations, or extended child custody battles can bring costs into the thousands.

While each party is typically responsible for costs in establishing paternity and child custody cases, most courts have the ability to provide for exceptions when there is a great disparity in financial circumstances between the two parties.

How Long Does It Take to Establish Paternity in Florida?

Happy father wondering how long it takes to establish paternity in Florida

While learning how to establish paternity in Florida, a main question often arises: “How long does it take?” The short answer – it depends.

If the parties involved agree, it could only take a few weeks for them to come together to fill out, sign, and submit the required forms and for the state government to change the birth certificate.

In contested cases where the alleged father denies paternity, is out of state, or is difficult to locate, it could take months or longer. He would need to be served and given time to respond. Court proceedings and the time it takes to complete child support and timesharing agreements will all be factors in the length of the case.

If/when a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity has been signed, it takes 60 days for it to become final and binding.

Establishing Paternity When Father is Deceased in Florida

While the process is similar when the father is deceased, establishing paternity posthumously has its challenges.

Under Florida Statute 732.108, a child would be considered a descendant if:

  • The natural parents participated in a marriage ceremony before or after the birth of the person born out of wedlock, even though the attempted marriage is void.
  • The paternity of the father is established by an adjudication after the death of the father.
  • The paternity of the father is acknowledged in writing by the father.

Florida law does not require a formal document of acknowledgment of paternity in this circumstance. It needs to be in writing in some form by the father.

Regarding scientific testing, DNA can be extracted during an autopsy; this takes immediate action and would not be applicable in many cases. Requests for DNA testing from close living relatives can be made, but this can be challenging as well. These may need to be performed through the court system.

Rights and Responsibilities Following Paternity Establishment

Once paternity is established, the father has legal rights to his child, including timesharing. The parent with primary responsibility for the child has the decision-making power on major areas of the child’s life, such as medical/healthcare needs, education, and religion. A parenting and timesharing plan is typically set up, which may or may not include the ability to share decision-making regarding the child’s needs.

Child support is also a common responsibility after the establishment of paternity. Court orders must be obeyed, or the individual can face very serious consequences.

These rights and responsibilities are indoctrinated in law for the child’s benefit.

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Paternity Establishment

As mentioned above, when there is no dispute regarding paternity, the two parents can sign a “Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity,” which is a legally binding document that represents, under oath, that the man is the true legal father, giving him all the rights and responsibilities that come with being a parent. Signing the document is considered a permanent decision.

Voluntary paternity is contingent upon the father’s decision to legally acknowledge the child. Whether from signing an official document or through marriage, voluntary blood or DNA testing, or other situations with having a significant relationship with the child.

Involuntary paternity establishment is conducted through pursuing a lawsuit in the court system.

Voluntary paternity establishment typically takes much less time and costs than involuntary paternity establishment.

Impact on Child Support and Custody

Figurines of a separated family, next to a gavel

When seeking the establishment of paternity, know that there are, in many cases, impacts on child support and custody. The specifics of your case and your goals will correspond with the impacts. Here are several examples:

  • An unmarried mother with a 6-month-old baby files a case to prove the paternity of an ex-partner who will not voluntarily acknowledge that he is the father. He is proven to be the father through court-ordered DNA testing. He is then mandated to pay monthly child support for the baby.
  • A man discovers that his ex-partner had a baby six months after they ended their relationship. The child is three years old. He believes he is the father and wants to be a co-parent to the child. She wants to continue to raise the child on her own, so he files a case and proves paternity through DNA testing. They work with the courts on a timesharing agreement and child support, sharing parental rights and responsibilities.
  • A woman gets divorced and has a baby three months after it is final. Her ex-husband says he is not the father. She files a paternity lawsuit, and DNA testing proves he is the biological father. She maintains primary custody and major decision-making for the child, and the court orders him to pay child support. He sees the child a few times per year.

Overcoming Common Challenges in Paternity Cases

Common challenges include resistance or refusal from the alleged father to participate in the process and difficulty in locating the alleged father to prove paternity.

Paternity laws exist for the benefit of the child. The courts can force individuals to cooperate with the process or face legal consequences, such as being held in contempt of court, facing fines, or having a judgment made against them to pay child support.

When an alleged father is out of state and difficult to locate, the courts can work with local law enforcement to find and subpoena him. If he does not comply with the process and shows up in court, the judge can make him the legal father.

Legal Assistance in Paternity Cases

Paternity cases are complex and have wide-ranging impacts on children and families. When navigating paternity establishment, it is extremely important to consult with a legal professional, such as the experienced lawyers at Golden Key Law Group, PLLC.

Frequently Asked Questions on Paternity Establishment

  • Does a father’s name on the birth certificate establish paternity in Florida?

Having a father’s name on a birth certificate does not automatically establish legal paternity. The father must complete a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form.

  • How do I get child support after paternity is established?

Typically, once paternity is established there will be a court order that specifies how child support is to be disbursed. If the parent who owes child support refuses to pay, the state has tools such as wage garnishment in order to obtain the current child support owed.

  • How long does a father have to file a paternity test?

Until the child turns 22, however, it is advised to file as soon as possible to avoid potential challenges.

Get Help From Golden Key Law Group

If you are considering filing a paternity lawsuit, it is highly recommended to consult with an attorney experienced in family law.

Family law is very fact-intensive and requires asserting the proper legal grounds for the judge to grant your request and make the best ruling possible.

The Pinellas Park paternity lawyers at Golden Key Law Group, PLLC have experience in paternity cases and can help with the establishment of paternity, child support, and timesharing agreements.

Contact us today to get started.