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.
If a petition to establish paternity is done without the state, then there will most likely be a portion of the petition requesting that a time-sharing/parenting plan be established between the parents. A parenting plan establishes the mutual parent-relationship so that the parties know what they should and should not do with regards to the child without first letting the other parent know. For example, most parenting plans establish that the parents will have shared parental responsibility, which means that the parents should have equal rights in decision-making for the child. In most parenting plans, it will state that the parents shall communicate and cooperate in decision-making regarding schooling, counseling, tutoring, etc. Also, the parenting plan may state that neither parent should say negative or disparaging things about the other parent in front of the child. These seem basic, but parents often need blueprints for raising a child in separate homes.
The time-sharing plan establishes the actual time each parent will have with the child. For example, in Jacksonville, Florida there are some standard guidelines that were established by the court some time ago that allows for the non-majority time-sharing parent to have one night per week and alternating weekends with the child during the school year, alternating holidays, and one-half of the summer vacation. Parents can actually establish a time-sharing plan that works best for them and may reach an agreement outside of a trial. If the issue goes before a judge, then she/he may establish the time-sharing plan in a way that the court believes to be in the best interest of the child.
If you have a child outside of a marriage, then establishing parental rights for the father is necessary for both the child and father. Establishing rights does not have to be done only when the parents split, but can be done while they are actually still a couple. I often tell people that it makes more sense for the child to have two legal parents and to come to that agreement while things are still amicable as oppose to when the relationship may deteriorate. If the parents stay together, then at least the child’s parents have been legally established for purposes of inheritance and any other legal matters that may arise in that child’s life, including being enrolled in school by the father. When dealing with a paternity case you should speak with an experienced family law attorney to further explain your rights and options.