Establishment of Paternity

Why It's Important

In Florida, if two unmarried individuals have a child, it is legally necessary for the father’s paternity to be established. It does not matter that the his name is on the birth certificate. The inclusion of the father’s name on the birth certificate alone only serves as a presumption of paternity but does not legally establish Paternity. Note: Mothers do not have to establish their rights, as there typically would not be doubt as to who the mother of the child is. The legal reality of establishing one’s paternal rights is significant because failure to do so results in the father having no rights at all over his minor children.

Some individuals may mistakenly believe that establishing paternity is only relevant or important if the parents are no longer together, or no longer getting along. While both of those instances are good scenarios in which to establish paternity, other situations exist where even if parents are together and/or getting along, paternity should still be established. For example, the premature death of the mother. This would leave the father in a situation where he does not have legal proof that he is the legal father of his children.

Along with establishing legal rights over a minor child, a Petition to Establish Paternity also addresses other relevant issues such as Parental Responsibility, Child Support, and Timesharing & Parenting Plans.

Parental Responsibility

In a Paternity action, before a Father can contemplate having any parental responsibility, it is first necessary for a Petition to Establish Paternity to be filed in Court. A request for parental responsibility, either shared ; shared with ultimate decision-making; or sole parent responsibility should be part of the relief requested within the Petition. Below are the different types of Parental Responsibility in Florida:

Parental Responsibility refers to each parent’s rights and responsibilities regarding the minor children common to the parties. There are three types of Parental Responsibility in Florida:

‣ Shared Parental Responsibililty – This type of parental responsibility grants both parents equal rights and responsibilities over all aspects related to the minor children. It requires that prior to any major decisions being made, both parents must confer and mutually agree to a course of action. This is the most commonly agreed to or ordered option for parents.

‣ Shared Parental Responsibility with Ultimate Decision-Making Authority – Like the option above, this type of parental responsibility also provides for both parents sharing the rights and responsibilities over issues related to the minor children. However, in the event mutual agreement is not possible, one parent would essentially have a tie-break ability resulting from their having ultimate decision-making authority. This type, while not as common as the above mentioned option, is helpful when one parent is more knowledgeable than another regarding a specific aspect related to the minor children such as, medical or education matters. Note: It is possible for one parent to have decision-making authority over educational matters, while the other exercises decision-making authority over health matters. This way the parents are even keeled by each having decision-making authority.

‣ Sole Parental Responsibility – This type of parental responsibility is self explanatory in that one parent would retain 100% of the rights and responsibilities over the minor children. Out of all the options, this is the most difficult type of parental responsibility to obtain as it requires a finding that there would be a detriment to the minor children if parental responsibility were to be shared.

For some parents, its not a question as to which of these options should apply to them as they naturally gravitate towards Shared Parental Responsibility. For other parents, however they may have a different preference but are unsure how this determination is made.

Ultimately, if the parents cannot come to an agreement on this matter, the Court will weigh the options while considering the ‘best interest of the child’ in order to made a decision.

Timesharing & Parenting Plans

In Florida, timesharing refers to the time each parent spends with the minor children. The term is specifically meant to remove the negative connotations surrounding the previously used term “custody”.

Timesharing schedules are especially helpful because they allow both parents and children to have a consistent and predictable schedule to follow. This is not only convenient for the adults but it is also beneficial for the emotional development and well-being of the minor children. While a timesharing schedule is important to know what a family’s day to day schedule will be like, there are many more relevant timesharing issues that must be determined and that are found within a document called a Parenting Plan.

A Parenting Plan, is an all encompassing document that not only incorporates parents’ timesharing schedules, including what timesharing will be during school breaks such as Summer Break, Spring Break and the Winter Break/holiday season, but it also addresses various other issues, all of which are not listed below:

‣ Parental Responsibility
‣ Exchange Location & Pickup/Drop off time
‣ Child Care
‣ Right of First Refusal
‣ School Designation & which Parent’s address is designated for school boundary purposes
‣ Decisions re: Extracurricular Activities and associated costs
‣ Domestic & International Travel
‣ Forms of Communication between parents & between parents & children
‣ Costs of Communication

Child Support

Parents have a responsibility to provide financial support to their minor children. In Florida, child support is paid pursuant to a statutory guideline that takes into account the following factors:

‣ Each parent’s income
‣ The number of children
‣ Each parent’s number of overnights with the minor children
‣ Monthly payment towards healthcare and/or daycare

During a family case, the requisite financial information is exchanged between the parties, allowing for a review of the relevant information necessary to calculate child support. Also occurring during a family case, is a negotiation related to timesharing and what percentage of overnights the minor children will spend with either parent. Once the financial information is complete and the parents have agreed to a timesharing schedule, child support guidelines can be created inclusive of this information, and resulting with a monthly child support obligation from one parent to the other.

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