The law in Florida dictates that when a child is born to a married couple, the husband is automatically treated as the child's legal father. However, things are decidedly different if the mother is not married at the time of birth, as the child won't be viewed as having a legal father under state law.
In these situations, it will be necessary for the mother to establish legal paternity for the child, something that can be accomplished in one of four ways: acknowledgement of paternity, legitimation, court order and administrative paternity order.
Acknowledgement of paternity
In this relatively simple step, both birth parents can sign and submit a legally binding document, known as a paternity acknowledgement, when the child is born or shortly thereafter. This will serve to establish legal paternity.
If the birth mother and birth father ultimately decide to marry after the birth of their child and properly inform the Florida Office of Vital Statistics of this development, this should be enough to establish legal paternity.
In these scenarios, paternity is contested, and both the birth mother and alleged father (i.e., putative father) will need to appear in court for a scheduled hearing. Here, the presiding judge will examine all of the facts and likely order a genetic test. If all of the evidence ultimately demonstrates that the child does indeed belong to the alleged father, the judge will issue a court order establishing legal paternity.
Administrative paternity order
It's important to understand that the Florida Department of Child Support Services can initiate a paternity action on behalf of the birth mother. While the alleged father will have to take a genetic test, there will be no need to go to court.
In the event the genetic test proves the alleged father is indeed the birth father, the agency will issue an order establishing legal paternity that is just as binding as one issued by the state courts.
We will continue to examine this issue in future posts, including why it's so important to establish paternity.
In the meantime, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional if you have any questions or concerns regarding paternity, child support or child custody.