Establishing paternity means legally determining the father of a child, which will give your child the same rights and benefits as children born to married parents. These rights and benefits include:
- Legal proof of each parent’s identity
- Information of family medical history in case of inherited health problems
- The child knowing the identity of both parents
- The father’s name on the birth certificate.
- Medical or life insurance from either parent (if available)
- Financial support from both parents, including child support, Social Security, veteran benefits and military allotments (if available), and inheritance.
Establishing paternity gives the father and mother legal rights to:
- Seek a court order for child support
- Seek a court order for custody or visitation
- Have a say in certain legal decisions about the child
How To Establish Paternity:
Establishing Paternity by Signing a Consenting Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity
The easiest way to establish paternity is administratively (without going to court). The mother and father sign an affidavit saying the child is theirs. This can be done at the hospital before the baby is discharged or at a local public health unit, the Department of Children and Families office or Child Support Enforcement office.
All birthing facilities will assist with the completion and filing of affidavits. Parents do not have to pay a fee when both parents sign the form at the hospital or birthing center. Some parents may wish to take the information home and sign the acknowledgment at a later date. If you choose to sign the affidavit after leaving the hospital, you may have to pay a small fee for the Office of Vital Statistics to process the form.
When the mother signs the affidavit she is swearing that she was unwed at the time of the birth and that the named man is the biological father of the child.
When the father signs the affidavit, he agrees that he is the biological father of the child and that he will be responsible for the child's financial and medical support until adulthood.
Parents should NOT sign the affidavit if the identity of the father is uncertain. After signing, either parent has the right to cancel the effect of the affidavit in writing within 60 days unless there has been a court order regarding that parent and the child. Once the 60 day period expires, paternity can be changed only by providing evidence in court that one of the signatures on the affidavit was obtained through fraud, under duress, or that there was a material mistake in fact.
Establishing Paternity Judicially by Court Order
Paternity can also be established by order of the court, also called judicial action, in two ways:
- The noncustodial parent may sign legal documents establishing paternity and/or support. This is called a stipulation. The court then adopts the stipulation in a final order.
- The court may hold a hearing to establish paternity and/or support.
If either party has any doubt about the paternity of the child, genetic testing should be requested.
The primary collection method in the state of Florida is buccal swab and is a simple, painless procedure. Buccal swab eliminates the need to have blood drawn because a sample is taken by rubbing the inside of the mouth with a cotton swab to collect the DNA material. Collection of a sample can be obtained from adults as well as newborns and the process is fairly quick.
The type of test conducted at each laboratory is DNA testing. The cost is $96 per case. The test turnaround time between sample collection and the time the results are received is approximately 2-3 weeks. The results will be filed with the court and mailed to the parties.
The total costs for DNA testing are initially paid by the Department of Revenue. The costs for genetic testing will be assessed against and recovered from the alleged father if he is found to be the biological parent through genetic testing and/or is determined to be the legal father by court or through his own agreement.
If the court orders genetic testing and the alleged father does not appear for testing, the case will proceed in court regardless and the court may make a finding of paternity without the test having been completed. The action does not stop just because the alleged father does not comply. Therefore, it’s very important for the alleged father to appear for genetic testing and to participate in the process. Once a court order for paternity has been entered, there are very specific timeframes for contesting the action.
Genetic testing is not granted without a court order after paternity has been established and the father will have to petition the court for this to happen. It’s very difficult to overturn a court order for paternity once the timeframes to contest have passed.