If you were asked to describe what a typical family looks like today, you might have a difficult time pinning down an exact description. Families are constantly changing, and non-traditional family structures are now just as common as the traditional nuclear family.
When two people are married and they have a child together, the husband is automatically recognized as the child’s father. But what happens when parents aren’t married? The woman who gave birth is obviously the child’s mother, but who is the child’s legal father?
In this situation, a child doesn’t technically have a legal father, and legal paternity will have to be established in order for your child to obtain all of the rights and benefits of one.
How Can I Establish Paternity?
Florida law recognizes that every child deserves to have a legal father and lists five different ways that paternity can be established:
- Marriage. If the parents are married when their child is born, paternity is established and the child has a legal father.
- Acknowledgement of paternity. If the parents are unmarried, the couple will have to sign a legal document when the child is born or at a later date to establish paternity.
- Administrative order based on genetic testing. If a DNA test proves who the father is, paternity is ordered.
- Court order. A judge can establish paternity in court with a court order.
- Legitimation. This is where the mother and natural father make things “legitimate” and get married to each other after their child is born. The parents can then update the child’s birth certificate through the Florida Office of Vital Statistics.
If you know you are the father of a woman’s child, you have rights even if the mother has married someone else and your child already has a “father.” If you want to be involved in your child’s life, you may be able to establish paternity amicably with the mother and discuss a paternity agreement. But if you are unable to do this, you might have to take paternity actions in court.
What Are the Benefits in Establishing Paternity?
Besides experiencing fatherhood and giving your child a legal father, establishing paternity gives your child, the mother, and you a number of rights and benefits. The most important of these benefits include:
- Spending time with your child. Once you establish legal paternity, you will have visitation and time-sharing rights with your child (except in very rare circumstances). If the mother denies you of this right, you can go to court. Also, if your child’s mother can’t adequately provide for your child, you might be able to get sole parental responsibility instead of shared parental responsibility.
- Providing your child with benefits. As a legal father, you are able to add your child to your health insurance plan so your son or daughter will have medical coverage. If you aren’t the legal father, then you can’t do this. You can also provide your child with Social Security and veteran’s benefits.
- Making important decisions for your child. You have a say in the important decisions in your child’s life when you are a legal parent. If the mother plans to move away or you need to make quick choices about the type of medical care your child receives, you have rights and you’re allowed to exercise them.
As you can see, establishing paternity and giving your child a legal father protects both you and your child in a variety of situations. But until you establish paternity, you won’t have any legal rights. Contact an experienced Florida family lawyer today if you have questions about establishing paternity for your child.