Newborn holding man's hand

What is a Paternity Action?

When a child is born to parents who are not married a Paternity issue arises. A Paternity lawsuit can be brought by either the mother or the father of the child. The purpose of the lawsuit is usually to establish the rights of the parents and establish a child support obligation. Most people, however, do not have knowledge of the laws in this state concerning unwed parents who have a child. When they come in for a consultation they are usually quite surprised as to the state of the law.

In Florida, if the parents are not married there is no presumption as to who the father is. The purpose of filing a paternity action is to establish who the father is and as such determine the respective rights and responsibilities of the parties. Florida Statutes state:

“Any woman who is pregnant or has a child, any man who has reason to believe he is the father of a child, or any child may bring proceedings in the circuit court, in chancery, to determine the paternity of the child when paternity has not been established by law or otherwise.”

As stated above, a mother can file a paternity action against the father of the child or a father can file one against the mother. If either party denies the paternity a DNA test will be ordered to determine who the father is. Once paternity is established, the father has all of the rights and responsibilities of any father would have, which would include child support and time-sharing.

If the parties maintain their relationship the issue of paternity rarely is a concern. It is only when the parties have a conflict that the lack of an order of paternity can complicate matters. As an example, consider a non-married couple who were never married and had a child together. There is no issue as to who the father is. The couple is not living together but has followed a time-sharing schedule which is satisfactory to both parties. In addition, the father has been financially supporting the child. Since the issue of paternity has never been an issue in their lives, a court order was never sought. What might happen if the parties’ relationship deteriorates? What if the mother suddenly denies the same time sharing to the father? What if the father suddenly stops contributing financial support for the child? These are the issues that I often see in my office. What can be done?

Unfortunately, until such time as paternity is established by law, the father will not have the ability to file a motion to enforce his time sharing because there is no presumption that he is the father. On the other hand, the mother will not be able to immediately pursue her child support for the same reason. Establishing paternity early on will eliminate these potential problems. It is only when the parents wait until a crisis occurs that problems arise.

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