Paternity is a legal determination of the father of a child. Paternity can be established several ways in Florida depending upon your circumstances. Lawyers are often asked to help establish paternity when an unmarried couple has a child. This is done when one of the parties files a petition with a court asking a judge to make a determination of the father.
Either the father or the mother of the child can ask for a paternity determination.
Establishing paternity gives rights and benefits to both mother and father as well as the child. Some of those benefits are:
- The legal right of both parents to participate in the major decisions of their child.
- Both parents are entitled to ask for child support and time sharing with the child.
- The child may become eligible for benefits from both parents such as health insurance, Social Security, veteran’s benefits, military benefits, life insurance and inheritances.
Determination of Paternity
First, a judge must make a determination who the father is legally. There are many ways that paternity can be established. In some cases, it may already be legally determined and you may not know it. Often the two parents are certain who the father is and they simply agree and move on. Other times proof such as a DNA test may be needed.
Keep in mind that simply having a father’s name on the birth certificate is NOT a legal establishment of the father.
Establishing a Parenting Plan and Time-Sharing
In the process of establishing paternity, you will need to establish a parenting plan. The parenting plan will outline the time-sharing arrangement between the child(ren) and parents. The Florida Supreme Court has a parenting plan template that most attorney’s and Courts use as a basis for the parenting plan, however, the actual plan can be as creative as the parents and children need it to be.
Parenting plans in paternity cases can vary widely because in some cases the father may not even know their child and in others they may have a well established relationship and the case is simply a legal formality.
When developing a parenting plan, it is important to account for as many possible problems or challenges that you can think of. This will save a lot of bad feelings, emotion and and in some cases, money later by having to go back to court to revise the plan. Spend time now to create a plan that can last as long as possible.
Calculation of Child Support
The second important aspect in you paternity case would be determining if any child support is needed. Each child has a right to be financially supported by both parents. In Florida, State guidelines have been established for calculating support and for some cases it is matter of mathematically calculating the amount. Judges do have discretion in awarding child support and there are factors that allow a judge to deviate from set formula’s under certain circumstances. An attorney who is experienced in calculating child support can help you determine what may be acceptable and if your situation has factors that may deviate from the standard formula.
Some of the primary factors that influence the child support amount is how much each parent makes, health care expenses (for children and parents), out of pocket health care costs, day care and the number of overnights that the child(ren) spend with each parent.
Financial Disclosure of Parents
In order to calculate child support, we will need details about both parents income and expenses. Consequently, both parents are required to file Financial Affidavits that describe income and expenses.
A Caution To Potential Payer’s of Child Support
In paternity cases child support can be set retroactively up to two years from the date of the filing of the petition. Regardless if you are the mother or the potential father, you should have an honest conversation with your attorney early in the case to estimate if child support may be due. If support is awarded and you are the payer, you could face a large debt to the other parent at the end of the case especially if the matter takes a while to close. This can often be lessened by making estimated payments throughout the case.
Always remember that any payments made to the other parent for support should always be made in a manner that you can provide proof to the court (for example a cancelled check, signed receipt, etc).
Florida Department of Revenue Cases
In Florida, the Department of Revenue is very active in pursuing fathers who do not financially support their children. The State typically gets involved because the mother either gets state financial assistance for their child or requests that the State seek a paternity judgment.
The reason the State gets involved is because if the State can get a father to pay the correct support, the State may be able to reduce or eliminate their financial assistance to the child. Because of this, the State has the ability to file a paternity action on behalf of the child(ren) even without the mother’s approval or consent.
The downside to the father in many new paternity cases initiated by the Department of Revenue is that the State will only seek a financial judgment. There will be no time-sharing plan established. Consequently, the father can be left legally obligated to pay child support and have no legal right to time-sharing with the child(ren).
Get Experienced Advice About Paternity
If you would like advice about determining paternity, calculating child support, creating a good time-sharing schedule for you and your child, please contact us to set a consultation. We will discuss your matter with you in more detail and provide you with advice and a legal strategy to move forward.
Changes to Previous Paternity Orders
If paternity has already been established in your matter and you are seeking to change an existing time-sharing schedule or child support order, we can help you too. See our Child Support Modification area.