You Are Not the Father! (Even if Maury Says So)

There are a lot of misperceptions about paternity in Florida, and this post is going to set the record straight. Believe it or not, here are some facts about paternity in Florida:

  1. When a child is born out of wedlock, the mother is the natural guardian of the child and a father has no rights to the child, including visitation, until a paternity order is entered.
  2. A child born to a married couple, is presumed to the child of the married couple, regardless if the father is the biological father of the child or not.
  3. If a father is not the biological parent, but nevertheless agrees to be named as the father on the birth certificate, he is going to likely be adjudicated as the father by the court, absent a showing of fraud, duress, or material mistake in fact.
  4. Even if a father is listed on the birth certificate, the presumption of paternity is still rebuttable for up to 60 days, unless a showing of fraud, duress, or a material mistake in fact.
  5. A father who does not file with the Putative Father Registry prior to a termination of parental rights proceeding, may potentially lose any right to claim paternity if they do not file the necessary information within 30 days of being served with notice of the hearing.

The Florida Putative Father Registry- What Is it?

The Florida Putative Father Registry is maintained by the Office of Vital Statistics of the Department of Health.  If you are not married to the woman you have relations with, and believe there is a chance that she may become pregnant from your relations, it is important that you complete an application and submit it to the Florida Putative Father Registry. The application can be found here. The records to the Florida Putative Father Registry are private and are given limited public access.

Submitting an application to the Florida Putative Father Registry is the first step necessary for establishing paternity with the courts. By filing an application to the Putative Father Registry, you are preserving your right to be noticed and to consent to an adoption that results from the relations. In addition, the filing of such application for a claim of paternity confirms a willingness and intent to support the child for whom paternity is claimed.

When Must You File with The Putative Father Registry?

A claim, or application for paternity must be filed with Putative Father Registry prior to a proceeding for the termination of parental rights. However, there is an exception to this requirement if (1) the mother identifies the father to the adoption entity as a potential biological father by the date she executes a consent for adoption; and (2) the father is served with a notice of the intended adoption plan, and he is able to respond within 30-days, and fulfills the necessary requirements.

Other Methods of Acknowledging Paternity

There are a few other methods for establishing paternity under the Florida Statutes. Some of which include:

  • If the establishment of paternity has been raised and determined within an adjudicatory hearing brought under the statutes governing inheritance, or dependency under workers’ compensation or similar compensation programs
  • A signed affidavit, or stipulation executed by both parties acknowledging paternity, that is filed with the court;
  • An affidavit, notarized voluntary acknowledgement of paternity, or a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity that is witnessed by two individuals and signed under penalty of perjury is executed by both parties (Court’s will typically find that a birth certificate meets the requirements of a voluntary acknowledgement);
  • If paternity is adjudicated by the Department of Revenue.

These Laws Seem Conflicting, What’s the Deal?

The state of Florida has an interest in protecting the welfare of a child.  The goal of the State is for a child to grow up in a loving, intact home, or in the very least, to be raised by loving and supportive parents. For example, if a mother and father are married, and a child is born during that marriage, it is the intention of the State that the child is presumed to the be biological and legal child of both parents. In this situation, the State would prefer to see that the child remain in the home of an intact marriage and apart of a family unit.  However, that presumption is rebuttable, if there is evidence of a father that is willing, and able to be apart of the child’s life, and the court finds that it would be in the best interest of the child to do so.  Similarly, if a man who is not the legal father accepts responsibility for the child, and acknowledges himself as the parent on birth certificate, even if he is not married to the mother or the biological father of the child, the court is going to hold him to be the parent to the child, and will require that man to continue to support the child.  Due to the State’s interest in having a child supported and loved by both parents, the burden to disestablish paternity, once acknowledged can be a difficult one to overcome.

What Should You Do?

If you are reading this post and feeling like there is a chance you may be the father of a child, but are worried that there is no hope for you to establish paternity, do not lose faith. Every case is unique, and although the burdens are difficult to overcome, they are not impossible to overcome. We highly recommend reaching out to an experienced family law attorney if you believe that you may be the father of a child and have not been adjudicated so by the courts, or have do not possess any signed acknowledgment of such.