Who is a child’s legal father in Florida? Does it matter?

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The issue of paternity is one we find generates a great deal of confusion. Many fathers in Florida operate under the incorrect assumption that biological fatherhood is the same as legal fatherhood, or that being the biological father supersedes being the legal father. It may seem counterintuitive but when it comes to who has the rights and responsibilities of being a father, being the legal father is all that matters.

It is perhaps easiest to explain paternity using examples:

  • If John and Annie have a baby while they are married, then John is both the biological and legal father. This is the simplest scenario.
  • If John and Annie have a baby but are not married at the time and remain unmarried, John is the biological father but not the legal father. This is true even if John is listed on the birth certificate. If John and Annie later marry, then John can become the legal father through a process known as legitimation, which involves updating the child’s birth records.
  • If Annie becomes pregnant by John while they are unmarried and Annie marries Steve before the baby is born, then even though John is the biological father, Steve is the legal father.

If you are not the legal father, regardless of being the biological father, you have no rights to your child. You have no parental responsibility or decision-making authority. Instead, the mother has exclusive rights to make all decisions regarding the child, which can impact your ability to exercise time sharing (custody) or see your child. This is not an uncommon scenario in Florida.

The legal method by which a biological father may seek to be declared the legal father is called a paternity action. Some paternity actions, however, are brought by the mother, in order to establish the father’s obligations to pay child support. By the end of a paternity action, if paternity is established, there should be a parenting plan in place which declares the parental responsibilities of both parents as well as a time-sharing schedule, in addition to child support obligations.

At Artemis Family Law Group, our attorneys are well-versed in paternity matters, having represented both mothers and fathers, and are ready to help you bring some stability and peace of mind to your situation. Please contact us to discuss your paternity matter and we will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

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