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Florida paternity basics: the question of fatherhood

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Florida paternity laws set out specific procedures for determining legal fatherhood.

The numbers demonstrate how crucially important paternity laws that determine the identity of a child's father are in current times. According to the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics, in 1970, about 85 percent of state births were to married women, but by 2011, the percentage had dropped to just above 50 percent.

When a child is born to a married Florida mother, her husband is legally presumed to be the father (even if the baby was conceived before the marriage). So if roughly half of Florida babies are born to unmarried moms, paternity issues are going to be very common.

Legally establishing a child's father is important for a variety of reasons. For the child, it can mean obtaining the right to inherit from the father or being eligible for certain benefits through him. In most cases, developing a father-child relationship (and one with the father's family) is beneficial to the child for personal and emotional reasons. Both parents have the legal duty to provide for the child, as well. In addition, it is important to know the father's genetic and medical information.

For a mother, establishing paternity gives her the right to seek child support and she might want the two to have a relationship. For a father, paternity gives him the legal right to seek access to and time with the child.

Establishing paternity in Florida

An unmarried father can voluntarily acknowledge paternity by executing certain official Florida state forms. Also, when a mother is receiving certain public benefits, the Florida Department of Revenue can start an administrative paternity proceeding; sometimes paternity is established in a proceeding related to the child's inheritance; or in a few other situations.

In most situations, a suit to establish paternity is filed by a mother (unmarried or married), by a man who "has reason to believe" he is the father or by a child. An action for paternity in Florida is only available until four years after the child turns 18.

Proper service on and notice to interested parties are required by law in a paternity suit and it is a good idea to utilize the services of an experienced family lawyer to see that all deadlines and procedural requirements met. A knowledgeable Florida paternity attorney can advise a man, woman or child about legal rights and wise choices at every step of the process.

If an alleged father receives proper notice of a paternity action and he fails to respond, a default judgment may be entered against him declaring him the father. If he wants to challenge that judgment, certain deadlines will likely apply, so he should consult an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible to understand how to prevent his right to challenge from expiring. Such a deadline may not be enforced if it can be shown that at the original proceeding there was a fraud upon the court.

In a paternity suit, the court can order genetic testing of the parties to determine biological fatherhood when there is good cause and it is in the child's best interest. The court can order testing on its own or in response to a request from one of the parties.

If a man is adjudicated the father in a paternity action and he disagrees, he may appeal the judgment. If the paternity judgment becomes final, the father generally has one year to challenge it on certain bases like fraud, excusable neglect, newly discovered evidence and more. Florida also has independent procedures for disestablishing paternity.

Any Floridian facing paternity issues should seek skilled legal counsel.

Keywords: Florida, paternity, fatherhood, father, child, mother, presumption, unmarried, relationship, duty, child support, access, proceeding, establish, married, paternity suit, service, notice, genetic testing

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