In our previous Florida Paternity FAQs post, we discussed the crisis we have on our hands, that of absentee fathers. Historically, many dads who desired a relationship with their kids were shut out by the kids’ moms, who were then backed by the legal system.
The shift away from presuming mothers should be the sole caretaker of the children actually started in the 1970s, so it’s been a long time coming. It didn’t really start to pick up speed until the mid-90s. This Slate article says:
According to one of the most thorough surveys of child custody outcomes, which looked at Wisconsin between 1996 and 2007, the percentage of divorce cases in which the mother got sole custody dropped from 60.4 to 45.7 percent while the percentage of equal shared custody cases, in just that decade, doubled from 15.8 to 30.5.
The Father Factor Crisis
Society has begun to realize the absolute devastation that is caused when children don’t have relationships with their fathers. Take a look at this infographic from the National Fatherhood Initiative:
On the other hand, kids do better physically, socially, emotionally, academically, and behaviorally, and are far less likely to live in poverty and less likely to be abused or neglected when they have a father present in their lives.
Florida courts defer to Shared Parental Responsibility when it comes to child custody matters. (The terms have changed: We now say “Parenting Plan” rather than child custody agreement, and “Timesharing” rather than visitation.) The goal with any custody matter is always the best interests of the child, which takes into account a number of factors that we won’t delve into here today.
Now we know that having a relationship with both parents (especially the father) IS in the child’s best interests, so long as the relationship is healthy and not harmful to the child. But often dads still feel disadvantaged in court and are left feeling like they have no recourse when it comes to their kids.
Fathers need to know their rights and secure an attorney who will fight for them.
What Rights Do Fathers Have in Florida?
By virtue of Shared Parental Responsibility, if you’re the father, you DO have rights with your kids. But first, you have to be determined to be the father.
If you and the mother are married when the child is born, then you are presumed to be the father, unless paternity is challenged. If you’re not married when the child is born, paternity has to be established. That can happen in a few different ways:
- Acknowledgment of Paternity. An unmarried couple signs a legal document when the child is born. Both parents must be present to sign the form in the presence of two witnesses or a notary public. To acknowledge paternity at a later date, a different form is required. Keep in mind that your last name will not be on the birth certificate without this acknowledgment.
- Administrative Order based on Genetic Testing. Paternity is ordered if a genetic (DNA) test proves fatherhood. This route does not require you to go to court, but all parties (mother, father, and child) must have a DNA test. DNA tests are relatively quick, easy, and inexpensive.
- Court Order. A judge orders paternity in court.
- Legitimation. The mother and natural father get married to each other after the child is born and update the birth record through the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics.
(source: Florida Department of Revenue)
You have the right to bring a claim of paternity. You will need to file a Petition to Establish Paternity with the court, which may require you to take a DNA test.
To Help Your Case…
There are some things you can do to demonstrate your desire to be active in your child’s life. Here are a few:
- Try to live near your children’s school or daycare. Help with pick up and drop off.
- Have a comfortable, kid-friendly home with enough space for everyone when your kids come to stay.
- Take an active role in your kids’ lives. Get to know their friends and teachers, help them with homework, attend extracurricular activities, etc.
- Assist with medical, educational, and financial needs.
- Be a positive, responsible adult.
- Be careful what you post on social media.
- Do not disrespect the children’s mother in front of them.
Contact our office for a FREE consultation about your paternity case or to file a claim of paternity. (561) 748-8000