You may very well be the biological father but does not mean you are the legal father or that you have any legal rights to your child. It is important that if you are an unmarried father, you immediately establish your legal rights to your child. In Florida, if a child is born out of wedlock, there is no presumption of fatherhood. Paternity should be established first and foremost.
An establishment of paternity can be done in several ways:
· At the hospital, the “father” and mother when signing the birth certificate also sign an affidavit acknowledging paternity. This affidavit is notarized and witnessed by 2 individuals. If you only signed a birth certificate but did not sign this affidavit, you have not established paternity.
· The “father” or mother files a petition for paternity through the court. The parties then either stipulate to paternity or there is DNA testing that is conducted.
· The Florida Department of Revenue may commence a paternity proceeding and child support proceeding.
If you do not establish paternity, the mother has all of the legal rights concerning the child and the “father” more than likely has none. Therefore, even a biological father will likely have no say when it comes to time spent with the child, schooling, travel, or even if the mother decides to move the child out of state. Paternity must be established before the “father” has a say in any of those things.
One of the more pressing concerns is that a mother could give the child up for adoption and the “father” would have no recourse. It is imperative that a “father” preserve his rights by registering with the Florida Putative Father Registry maintained by the Office of Vital Statistics. This registration will preserve a “father’s” right to notice and consent to an adoption.
Once paternity is established, this does not automatically mean that parental responsibility or a time-sharing arrangement is established. It is important that you file for a parenting plan with the court so that you have a time-sharing arrangement for your child and parental responsibility is established. If you file a petition for paternity, a parenting plan will and child support will be a part of that process.