Paternity identifies the legal father of the child and establishes rights of both parents and the child. Paternity gives both parents the right to seek court orders for parental responsibility, time-sharing and child support.
Paternity is automatically established when parents are married at the time the child is born; however, unmarried parents will have to establish paternity of the child. Unmarried parents can establish paternity through a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity, or through a court order. Until paternity is established, the mother of the child is the natural guardian of the child and is entitled to primary residential care and custody.
In order for a father to have a right to notice and consent regarding the adoption of a child, the unmarried biological father must file a notarized claim of paternity form with the Florida Putative Father Registry which includes confirmation of his willingness and intent to support the child for whom paternity is claimed.
Once paternity is established, the father is not automatically entitled to make decisions regarding the child or to exercise timesharing. The father must file a petition to establish a parenting plan, parental responsibility, and a timesharing schedule. There is no presumption against the father in the establishment of these rights, although, as stated above, until such time as those rights are established, the mother is the only parent to have those rights.
In establishing a parenting plan, including a timesharing schedule, the court will consider the same factors as the court considers when addressing this matter in a dissolution of marriage proceeding, with the focus on the best interest of the minor child. As with children in a divorce proceeding, shared parental responsibility is deemed to be in the child’s best interest, as well as frequent and continuing contact with both parents. It is often difficult for mothers in a paternity action to understand or embrace the fact that the father is likely to be awarded equal decision making authority over the minor child, a timesharing schedule that awards the father significant and substantial time with child, and that the father is able to seek the majority of timesharing with the child. Conversely, many fathers in a paternity action mistakenly believe that they have fewer rights to the child based on the fact that the child was not born during a marriage. This is not the case.
Often times, fathers are obligated to pay support as a result of a paternity action brought by the Department of Revenue on behalf of the mother. The Department of Revenue, however, will not seek parental rights, nor timesharing, for the father. It is important for the father to understand that he must take proactive measures to establish rights for and timesharing with the child. Child support does not equate to having parental rights over the child.