In Florida, the mere establishment of paternity does not create rights for the biological father. Fla. Stat. 742.10 provides that paternity can be established by the filing with the Clerk of Court of an affidavit of paternity signed by both parties, by submitting a notarized voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, by signing an acknowledgment of paternity in the presence of two attesting witnesses, by adjudication with the Department of Revenue, or by establishment through establishment by the judiciary. While unwed fathers have means available to establish paternity there is a secondary step necessary establish parental responsibility and timesharing. Establishing parental responsibility and timesharing opens the gate for the adjudicated father to have equal rights with the mother to make decisions regarding the child’s education, healthcare, and religious upbringing. Whereas establishing timesharing implements a schedule for which the father is entitled to spend time with the child. I have seen too many instances in which father’s believe that they have parental responsibility and timesharing rights simply because they pay child support. It is essential that the unwed father protects his rights and advocate for timesharing in a set schedule with his children.
In recent years, the rules and laws regarding paternity actions in Florida have changed. Paternity cases generally establishes a father’s parental rights to a child in Florida; however, if the paternity case is brought by the Florida Department of Revenue those rights are limited to, basically, paying child support. In prior years, fathers were able to file a counter-petition in the Department of Revenue case and request time-sharing/visitation and even custody, and request to have parental rights shared by the mother and father to make decisions regarding the child’s life. Filing a counter-petition basically saved the father money because the filing fee is less and it consolidated the cases into one so as not to have to attend multiple hearings on the same issue. Recently, the ability to file a counter-petition in a Florida Department of Revenue case against a putative father was banned. So, how do you establish your parental rights when the State of Florida is only filing an action to establish your child support obligation?
To give some background, signing a birth certificate as the “father,” does not automatically give that person parental rights to the child, if the mother and father are not married when the child is born. Signing a birth certificate gives the presumption that the person that signed is, in fact, the father. However, the rights to the child have to be established by a court. If the father does not do that, and later the mother files for any type of government assistance, then the State of Florida may file an action to establish paternity and child support for the benefit of the child.
The State of Florida’s interest in filing an action to establish paternity is based on a financial need of the State and not public policy for children to have a father. If a mother is requesting government assistance, like Medicaid for the child, then the State has a right to look at whether another person has a financial obligation to the child and possibly has an ability to provide health insurance for the child. Therefore, the State will request that the mother give a list of all possible fathers of the child. After that application is completed, the State of Florida on behalf of itself and the mother, will file a paternity action against the possible fathers. A DNA test will then be requested to establish the biological father. The case will then move forward with regards to that one individual and the State will only request child support be established.
In a Florida divorce, post divorce or paternity case, there may be times the case is referred to a general magistrate instead of the judge. Often, a general magistrate’s calendar is more accessible than the judge’s calendar due to volume of cases. The magistrates have the power to listen to cases and make a ruling based on the evidence presented, which then must be provided to the judge before being entered as a court order. Therefore, the judge still has control over the case, but the magistrate is helping move the cases along.
A referral to a magistrate is generally done for temporary needs hearings, which is when a party is requesting a temporary order be entered with the court until the final hearing so that each party has what s/he may need to get to a final hearing, like child support, alimony, or use of the home. The reason is that the judge may not be able to get the parties in for a longer period of time and the magistrate can generally see them in a couple of months. It is also common for the case to be referred to the magistrate when a lawyer does not represent one or both parties.
How does a case get referred to a general magistrate? When certain documents or motions are filed with the court, the court may tag them to be referred to the magistrate instead. For example, when a party files a Motion for Temporary Needs, the judge may sign an order referring the case to the magistrate’s office. When that happens, both parties receive a copy of the order and have ten (10) days to object to the transfer. In Florida, use of a magistrate has to be by consent, so if one party objects, then it will not go to the magistrate but must be heard by the judge instead. This may mean that the hearing is postponed for a time to correspond with the judge’s calendar.
Written By: Lenorae Atter, Attorney
Establishing paternity in Florida can and normally does require that both parties participate in DNA testing of the child and presumed father. The reason for DNA testing is to know with certainty that the father is actually the biological father of the child at issue. Not having the DNA test can lead to additional court action down the line if biological findings later show that that the individual that was ordered to pay child support and established a relationship with the child is actually not the father. Therefore, when an action to establish paternity is brought by either the potential father, the mother or the Department of Revenue on behalf of the mother, then the court will most likely order DNA testing.
The Department of Revenue may bring an action to establish paternity and child support and they normally do so if either the mother asks for such assistance, or if the mother applies for government assistance for the child’s benefit. Before the State will allow for a child to get on government assistance the State may require that paternity be established so that the biological father of the child can actually assist the child instead of the state. The Florida Department of Revenue may ask the mother to fill out forms to show who the potential father or fathers may be and the State may then take action in filing a petition to establish paternity against those listed.
As a Jacksonville, Florida family law attorney, divorce, visitation and custody issues are part of my daily practice. Visitation and custody are usually emotional and working with a client on their parental demeanor is vital in moving forward and eventually going to court. When dealing with custody and visitation of a child it is important that the court sees that you are willing to cooperate with one another in an effort to look out for the best interest of the child(ren).
As of October, 2008, the Parenting Plan Statute went into effect with the purpose of countering bad behavior. The time-sharing and parenting statute requires all parents to file and have the court approve a parenting plan that lays out exactly how all issues of time sharing with the minor children are going to be handled. Instead of limiting yourself to only two options, winning it all or losing, there is another, more productive way to approach the custody issue. The approach may require more maturity than some parties can muster, but, for those able to shift gears, think rationally and be patient, the following approach can be rewarding for them and their children. These steps can lead to a better solution for all, especially the children.
Think about, discuss and decide what your ultimate goals are for the kids. What outcomes would you like to see? Many people would want some of the following (or similar) goals:
1. Family Relationships
a. The kids having a great relationship with both parents
b. The kids having a great relationship with their extended families
c. Financial security for the children
d. Having a safe, secure home for the children
e. Having good schools for the kids
f. Providing for a college education for the children
g. Providing sports opportunities for the children
h. The opportunity for the kids to learn music, art or other interests
Each parent can decide what he or she thinks would be important goals for their children. Broader, underlying goals are more helpful and meaningful. If both parents think of goals in broad terms, they often can agree on them.
2. Look at the big picture.
a. Financial abilities of the parents
b. Parental/family member time available
c. What homes and schools are available and affordable
d. What the parents’ neighborhoods are like
e. The existing relationships between parents and children and the roles each parent plays with the children
f. What community resources are available
g. What special needs, if any, a child has
h. What interests the child has
Paternity cases and divorces in Florida have a standard of review by the court when children are involved, which is, “What is in the best interest of the child?” By changing things from “custody” to “time-sharing” and “custodial parent” to “majority time-sharing parent, “ the Florida legislature tried to help parents approach such subjects from a less adversarial position. As a Jacksonville divorce and family law attorney, I can attest to the fact that people seem to understand that visitation matters need to be addressed a little more openly, but it does not change the fact that parents sometimes want to fight over the time-sharing plan for many different reasons. That means that when parents disagree, which they often do, then the Court may appoint a parenting plan coordinator or social investigator to help them work out their differences.
The court, through Florida law, is allowed to appoint a parenting coordinator. The parenting coordinator will actually meet with the parents and the children to help determine what issues may be impacting the family, though a separated one. In so doing, the coordinator may be able to help the parents work through some of their issues that may be creating a communication challenge for them. Also, the parenting coordinator may be able to address issues with the children and parents that may have gone overlooked by the parents through the divorce or paternity action. There are psychological and emotional issues that can be associated with any type of family matter, the least of which is not divorce. The parenting coordinator is often trained in dealing with such matters and can help the parents and children reach a level of comfort with one another to express such issues. By doing so, the parenting coordinator may ultimately help the parties in reaching an agreement about the time-sharing and parenting plans that need to be filed with the court.
If the parents are in complete disagreement with one another from the beginning, the court may appoint a social investigator. The investigator’s role is to meet with the parents and the children. However, it is different from the parenting coordinator in that she/he actually interviews the parents and tries to seem each parent interact individually with the kids. Also, the investigator may employ psychological tools, evaluations to help determine any underlying issues the parents or children may have. Furthermore, the investigation may require home visits, which allows the investigator to see what the home life is like for the children and ultimately make a recommendation to the court based on all aspects of the investigation. If there are questions about the truthfulness of one or both parents, then the investigator may actually interview others and check up on the parents in their work-life, if it is deemed necessary. The investigation can help the court to better understand each household and to assess what type of time-sharing and parenting plan truly is in the best interest of the children.
Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
Establishing paternity in Florida can mean more than just filing with the State’s Department of Revenue. In Florida and most states, paternity is established by the court and not by a birth certificate. A birth certificate simply provides an assumption that the father listed is the baby’s actual daddy. However, to establish rights to the child, child support and the like, at least one parent has to actually file an action with the court. The action is called a petition to establish paternity and while a DNA test is not required for the action, it is suggested given that the responsibility to a child and a parent is for a lifetime.
If you file for state benefits for the child, like Florida Healthy Kids, then you most likely will have to establish paternity and child support. However, a state action to establish paternity is only designed to establish paternity for the purpose of starting child support. The state does not handle issues involving time-sharing/visitation matters between the parents. Therefore, if the state files a petition, then chances are that the father will file a counter-petition to establish his actual parental rights, including time-sharing.
Written by: Lenorae Atter, Attorney at Law
First, the Florida legislature changed child custody to “primary timesharing parent” in October, 2008. However, since most of us are familiar with child custody and custody issues, this article will still address the issue as the historic term, “custody.”
As a Jacksonville Florida family law and divorce attorney, dealing with paternity cases and divorces with children, custody issues often arise and the Social Evaluation is an important factor in helping the parents better understand the issues facing the children, and the evaluation assists the judge in having a better understanding and comprehension of what is in the best interest of the children. In Jacksonville and throughout Florida, the social investigation is a component of the case that may be used in its entirety by the judge or may give the judge a basis for a particular ruling. In addition, the evaluation can provide the parties with a stepping-stone or format by which to reach an agreement regarding visitation issues.
The social investigation is conducted by a professional, usually someone with a psychology and law background, and the investigator actually interviews the parents, speaks with witnesses, talks to the kids, look at school records, etc. Once the reviews and statements are completed, the evaluator writes a comprehensive report to demonstrate the findings for each parent, child, and the overall assessment of a parenting plan and recommendations for the court regarding any other matters that should be addressed (i.e. whether counseling is recommended, communication issues, etc.).
So how do you present well in the social investigation? Basically, parties are often concerned that they need to present themselves in a certain light to impress the investigator. However, most of the individuals handing these matters can tell when a party is putting on a show. The idea is not to be fake or phony, but to present your concerns for the children, explain your relationship with the children, and truly identify your wants and needs and the children’s wants and needs before the interview. Being genuine with the investigator is beneficial because it allows the investigator to truly determine any family issues that may need to be addressed, the impact the divorce/separation is actually having on the children and the like. The reason for the investigation is not to berate the parents, but to simply identify what may be in the best interest of the children in the present and in the future.
Extend a mental olive branch to the other party. During your interview with the evaluator, do not destroy the other parent with disparaging remarks. Describe the parts of parenting that the other parent does well and be honest in your comments about the children’s relationship with their other parent. Then share the things that do concern you about the other party, or about the separation of the children. You do not have to make it sound like everyone is great, you’re getting divorced there were issues in the home, so being real about the situation can be helpful in reaching the right conclusion for your case.
Unlike mothers, fathers are not as easily determined to the parent of a child born out of wedlock and in Florida, the mother and/or the Department of Revenue may bring an action to establish paternity and child support. In a Florida, if the Department of Revenue is involved in a case it is typically due to the mother requesting some government aid for the child, such as Medicaid or Florida Kid Care. When the Department of Revenue is involved, the mother is asked to provide all information regarding the potential father of the child and the Department charges the mother a nominal fee to establish paternity and child support through the court. Since the father is not determined by simply signing the birth certificate, the petitioner, mother and/or Department of Revenue, may request a paternity test in order to scientifically establish the paternity of the child. In Jacksonville and most jurisdictions in Florida, the court will often require a DNA test even if was not requested in the initial petition simply to guarantee proper paternity is established.
DNA testing requires the putative or presumed father to comply with the DNA testing, the facility is often provided by the court, but the parties are typically responsible for paying for the test. The mother is also required to comply by taking the child to the DNA facility for the test to be complete. The DNA samples are then compared and an analysis or report is provided to the court. Cooperation by both parties is stand mandated by Florida Statutes.
If either party does not comply with the court order to have the DNA testing completed, then the judge can enter an order against the offending party. What this means, is that if the mother/guardian does not take the child for DNA testing, then the court may find that the presumed father is not the child’s father and is not obligate to pay child support. Department of Revenue o/b/o M.J.W. v. G.A.T.,Jr., 37 FLW D28 (Fla. 2nd DCA December 28, 2011). The impact of noncompliance would basically, according to the court, meet the standards established under Florida Statute 742.18(7)(b), which determines the disestablishment of paternity for noncompliance with DNA testing.
Florida divorce and custody battles (e.g. time-sharing battles) often center on the parenting styles of each party, the relationship of the children with each party, and the ability to care for the children in a safe, stable environment. When these things are questioned it can lead to legal arguments that center on the children and their academics, health, social environment and the like. As a divorce and family lawyer in Jacksonville, it has come to my attention over the years that sometimes the health of the children is more than simply getting check-ups, but also receiving the proper attention to their diet, school activities, etc. When these battles ensue, often fingers are pointed for things such as neglect, abuse (emotional or physical), lack of participation in homework and the like. However, in a 2009 Time Health article, the question of obesity in children has risen as a concern in custody or time-sharing disputes given the rise in the epidemic over the years.
The question, according to the article, is “Should morbidly obese children be taken from their parents?” While I do not see the Florida Department of Children and Families coming into everyone’s home with this issue, I can see how it may impact a legal case between two parents, especially if one parent is seeking a modification from a prior custody or time-sharing order. In order to file for a modification of time-sharing in Florida you must show a substantial change in circumstance. The question then would become, “Is the child’s excessive weight gain a substantial change in circumstance?” I believe, based on the health of the child, that the question may prompt legal action in the future.
According to the Time Health article, experts seem to be debating whether parenting styles can impact a child’s risk of obesity, thus making it healthier for the child to be out of the home of said parent. The concern is that if the child is gaining weight in the current environment, then there may be cause to remove the child to allow the child a chance at a healthier lifestyle in a different environment. The concern is a real one given that, “Childhood obesity can lead to a host of health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, which until recently was primarily a problem seen in adults. Overweight children can also develop insulin resistance, hypertension, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and orthopedic problems and go into early puberty,” according Time Health.