Most adults share a common misconception about the legal concept of paternity. They inaccurately believe that if a father is named on a birth certificate, that he is the legal father of the minor child; however, this is not true. Before delving any further into this topic, the following must be made clear: the need to establish paternity only exists in situations where a child is born to a couple or individuals that are not legally married. (Note: If a couple is legally married and a child is born of that marriage—both the wife and husband are considered the legal parents of that child).
When two individuals have a child together but are not married, the law only recognizes the mother as the legal parent. This is because there is never a doubt as to who the mother is, for obvious reasons. The father on the other hand, does not enjoy that same status, until it is legally determined or established by a court that he is, in fact, the legal father of the minor child.
The fact that a father is named within the birth certificate only serves as a ‘presumption’ that he is the father, but it still does not amount to a legal establishment of paternity.
The same is true of a DNA test—having a positive DNA match serves as proof that a father is the biological father but still does not result in the father’s legal establishment of paternity. What is important and necessary for a father in this situation, is for his legal status as father to be established in court.
So, what does it mean to establish paternity? It means that the father is seeking the same status and rights that any legal parent has in the state of Florida. This includes, for example: the right to make and be involved in any and all decisions relating to the child’s education, health, and overall upbringing. Additionally, it means having the right to exercise timesharing with the minor child. This includes having the right to spend time and live with the child during a certain percentage of each year—this includes the school year, summer break, holiday breaks and specific holidays. Lastly, and often times most importantly, it means being able to prevent the other parent from making any (unilateral) decisions about the child without the father’s input. Sometimes unilateral decisions by one parent are minor and inconsequential. However, other times, certain actions taken by the other parent are related to major issues that can have a substantial impact on the child. One example of this is the Mother relocating to another state with the minor child without notifying or discussing the matter with the father. In that situation, only a legal father can prevent such an action from happening. A biological father who is listed on the birth certificate or who has a DNA test proving he is the father would be in no position to prevent a relocation from taking place. For that and all the other reasons mentioned above, it is important for the legal establishment of paternity to occur—in most cases, sooner rather than later.
For more information on the topic of paternity, check out the Establishing Paternity page on our website or blog infographic: ‘Establishing Paternity: Most Commonly Asked Questions’ at: https://divorcebroward.com/establishing-paternity-faqs-infographic/.