Establishing Paternity in Florida
Florida has recently seen a quick succession of changes to family law. One especially important law has seemingly flown under the radar. Florida House Bill 775 (HB 775) aims to provide equal rights to unwed fathers. Previous paternity laws dictated that unmarried fathers had to file a paternity case to establish their legal paternity and parental rights. With HB 775, paternity is much easier to legally establish, but it comes with some caveats.Paternity Rights Before HB 775
Unfortunately, as it exists currently, family law generally does not make it easy for unmarried parents. Dividing assets, creating custody agreements, or receiving alimony is exceedingly challenging or outright impossible when it comes to unmarried couples. HB 775 sought to rectify some of those challenges. Previously, filing a paternity case in court could be a lengthy and expensive process. It wasn't enough for a father to be part of the child's life and sign the birth certificate to sufficiently establish legal fatherhood. Even a biological father did not have legal parental rights until the court found that he was indeed the legal father through blood testing and a paternity case or during child support proceedings.
Life After HB 775
HB 775 has now made it much easier for parents to declare paternity. Although unmarried couples must still file documents with the court, they can establish the father as a legal guardian with all the natural rights of parenthood. Here are some of the key changes that HB 775 has made to the laws governing paternity for unmarried parents in Florida:
- Paternity can now be established by signing the birth certificate and the affidavit of legal acknowledgment of paternity. This means that fathers no longer have to file a paternity case in court to establish their legal paternity.
- Fathers who have established paternity are now considered legal guardians alongside the mother, with all parental rights. These rights encompass various aspects, such as the right to make decisions about the child's education, healthcare, and religious upbringing, among others.
- The law does not automatically address other aspects of child custody, such as time sharing and child support. However, they do make it easier for fathers to seek these orders in court.
Filing the acknowledgment form will give fathers rights and responsibilities related to decision-making and the upbringing of their children. Under most circumstances, the parents can remain unmarried and still establish paternity until the child reaches the age of 18. However, it does not automatically address other aspects like timesharing and child support. For these specific issues, a petition for time-sharing and child support will still need to be filed. In the event that the father contests paternity, the court may order genetic testing to verify for child support or custody purposes.
HB 775 is a great step for unmarried parents. It's important to note that in order to establish paternity without genetic testing, both parents must be in agreement. Otherwise, the parent seeking to acknowledge paternity will need to file a child support order. Of course, every situation is unique, and it's best to work with an attorney who can guide you about your rights and options. If you're seeking child support or timesharing after a separation or divorce and are concerned how HB 775 may impact your case, Petkovich Law Firm is here to help. Call our office at (305) 358-8003 to schedule an appointment for your free consultation.