What is Paternity?
Paternity, often known as Father’s Rights, is the legal acknowledgment by the court of the parental relationship between a Father and his Child. Even if you are paying Child Support, are on the Birth Certificate, or have even passed a Paternity Test, you still may have NO legal rights as a Father. In general, Paternity is presumed and no court action is necessary if a child is born to parents who are married at the time of the child’s birth or who become married after the child is born, if certain steps are taken.
However, without the establishment of Paternity or Father’s Rights, if you are not married to the Mother of your child and you do not intend on marrying her, you likely have no legal rights in regard to spending time with your child or making decisions that affect your child.
Filing and pursuing a Paternity action in court allows an unmarried Father to not only be acknowledged as the legal Father, but also establishes Father’s rights, including time-sharing (visitation) and decision making (custody) through the establishment of a Parenting Plan. The Court will also order child support, and other related relief, as appropriate.
What is a Parenting Plan?
A Parenting Plan addresses two major issues: Time-sharing (visitation) and Decision Making (custody). From a Time-sharing standpoint, the Parenting Plan describes, in great detail, where and how the children will be spending their time. It addresses each child’s daily schedule, Holiday Time-sharing, vacation Time-sharing, as well as all communication and logistical concerns associated with the time-sharing. The Parenting Plan also delineates whether the parents will make major decisions affecting the children together, or whether one parent is better equipped, depending on the individual circumstances, to make the decisions solely.
As of July 2023, there is now a rebuttable presumption that equal time-sharing is in the best interests of the children when creating a parenting plan. While it is possible to overcome this presumption, this change is a departure from years of precedent.
A customized and clear Parenting Plan can reduce or even eliminate future conflict and the resulting litigation concerning Time-sharing and Decision Making issues and best situates parents to work together and co-parent in the children’s best interests. A well drafted Parenting Plan can also empower parents to best understand their rights and responsibilities, as well as provide certainty and reassurance to children as to when they will see their parents, how they will be getting around, and other age-appropriate concerns children may have when experiencing the big changes involved in a divorce.
Who Can Bring a Paternity Action and What is the Process?
In Florida, any woman who is pregnant or has a child, any man who thinks he may be the father of a child, or any child can bring a lawsuit to legally establish Paternity – so long as Paternity has not been established otherwise.
If you are looking to establish Paternity, the first step, under Florida law, is to file a Petition to Determine Paternity, and other supporting documents. After the filing, a summons should be issued and served with the documents on the other party. In a Paternity action, genetic or DNA testing may be requested by a party and ordered by the Court. The parties should also exchange discovery and have an opportunity to negotiate and settle, often at mediation.
Once a time-sharing schedule is either agreed to or ordered, child support, including retroactive child support and the apportionment of other child expenses, can be calculated. In determining the amount of support, the primary variables are the incomes of the parties and the number of overnights each party spends with the children.
Issues that do not settle at mediation or otherwise resolve can proceed to a Trial or Final Hearing. Ultimately, a Final Judgment of Paternity, containing an award of child support, and incorporating a Parenting Plan, containing a time-sharing schedule and determination of parental responsibility, should be ordered by the Court.
The Attorneys with Levinson & Capuano are here to assist you in establishing and protecting your rights and the rights of your children. Taking steps now to establish Paternity can positively impact you and your child’s life forever.
Revised: July 2023