A paternity action is filed to require the natural father of a minor child born out of wedlock to be deemed the legal father of the child.
A paternity action is most often filed by a mother who is seeking child support as part of the child support action. It is also filed by a father who desires to pay child support and/or to obtain timesharing for the child.
Paternity actions are the only way (with the exception of some rights in an administrative child support case) that biological fathers of an out of wedlock relationship can obtain certain legal rights to the minor child, such as the ability to make decisions regarding the child’s well-being or to obtain time-sharing with the child.
It is extremely important for a father to file a paternity action as often unwed fathers are not afforded legal rights for a minor child until paternity has been established by law.
This becomes extremely important when a mother seeks to move more than 50 miles from her current residence with the child.
If this action is not filed prior to the mother’s move, the court often will not require the mother to return the child to the state. That means that any timesharing schedule that is set will be a long distance schedule which significantly limits the amount of time the father will see the child.
Just because a person is listed on the birth certificate of the child does not always mean that person will be recognized as the father.
Often if the issue is in dispute, the Court will order a DNA test to be performed.
However, there are certain circumstances where paternity may have been previously established.
Some examples are when the parties have a written and notarized agreement or when an acknowledgment of paternity was executed and when paternity was established in an administrative case by the Department of Revenue.
Even when paternity was previously established out of court, a paternity action may still need to be filed to obtain other relief such as timesharing, parental responsibility and/or child support, but the issues of paternity should not be at issue.
Any child support requested in a paternity case is determined based on incomes of the parties, child care expenses, health insurance expenses and overnight timesharing exercised by both parents. Please see my child support section for more detail.
Any timesharing awarded is based upon the best interest of the child. This is governed by various factors listed in Fla.Stat. 61.13(3).
These factors include things such as the distances between the parents, the relationship between the parents and child, domestic violence and/or alcohol/drug issues, special needs of the child, the moral and physical fitness of the parents, how the child is doing in school, extracurricular activities for the child, and the past and present ability of the parents to care for the child and to encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent.
Parental responsibility can also be awarded in a paternity case. This explains how the parents will handle major issues involving the minor child including but not limited to medical issues, educational issues, religious issues, and extra-curricular activities.
The Court can award one parent the sole rights to make these decisions. This is rarely done and involves extreme cases where one parent is unable to assist, substance abuse issues or where there are issues of domestic violence or other serious issues.
Generally, the Court will award the parents shared parental responsibility where they each have an equal say in the upbringing of their child.
The third option that can be considered, and is often considered in cases where the parents are unable to effectively share decisions is majority decision making.
The Court can award one parent the overriding vote to make decisions for the child once they confer and discuss the issues with the other parent. This power can be given to one parent or the court can split up the decision making, giving one parent overriding power over education and the other over medical, etc.
Law governing paternity actions can be found under Florida Statutes 742.