If you are like many others in Florida who choose not to marry (at least not yet) and have a child, Florida does not recognize you as the legal father of your child. You may have discovered this fact when someone denied you some parental right. Neither you nor the mother of your child realized at his or her birth that you needed to do anything other than putting your name on the birth certificate in order to establish paternity.
That would have been enough if the two of you were married since the law presumes that a husband is the father of his wife's child. However, when parents are unmarried, the law requires extra steps to ensure parentage.
Why do I need to become a legal father?
You and your child's mother may share parental duties and support your child, but what if something happens? What will you do if your relationship ends? What happens if you and your child's mother disagree about a fundamental issue in the child's life, such as education or religion? Establishing paternity provides you and your child with the following legal rights and benefits:
- Right to have a say in child's life
- Provide health or life insurance to child
- Child receives military, Social Security and other benefits
- Child receives inheritances
- Name put on birth certificate
- Identity of father known
- Information on medical and family history available
- Court-ordered custody
- Court-ordered child support
The mother also benefits from your legal status as your child's father. It may seem as though she would only benefit if your relationship ends, but that isn't the only peace of mind she receives. She will know that if something happens to her, you have all legal rights to your child.
How to establish paternity
Establishing paternity in Florida occurs in three basic ways for unmarried parents:
- Voluntarily at birth
- Voluntarily from birth to age 18
- Through court order from birth to age 18
It's easiest to establish paternity at birth, but obviously, you could do it later.
If you need to establish the legal paternity of your child, you may need some help. Attempting to do so without the appropriate legal knowledge could result in jeopardizing your status as the legal father of your child. Instead, you would likely benefit from the services of a family law attorney who can further outline your legal rights, assist you with the process and help ensure that everything is done right so you can get back to enjoying your relationship with your child.