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How Do Single Fathers Establish Parental Rights?

When parents welcome the birth of a new child, there is typically no question about who is the mother and father. Being listed on the birth certificate issued by the hospital, which is also filed with the Bureau of Vital Statistics, grants the parents legal rights over the child, and importantly, establishes paternity for the child. This recognition as a child’s legal parent is important for issues like child support and child custody, especially for fathers. For obvious reasons, the mother, outside of a surrogacy arrangement, is automatically presumed to be the parent of any child she births and initially has sole physical and legal custody of the child. A married man is presumed to be the father of any child his wife has during the marriage and is listed on the birth certificate as a formality, but single fathers are not accorded the same automatic grant of parental rights. These men must take extra steps to ensure the law sees them as the child’s father. Having the status as a legal father is essential if the couple later separates or has a dispute related to the child. A recent article in the Panama City News Herald discussed some of the challenges single fathers face when raising their children as the sole parent. The article notes how courts moved away from the historical tendency to automatically give sole custody of a child to the mother, and are now more open to granting full custody to fathers. An overview of available methods to prove paternity in Florida, and thus gain the rights granted to parents under the law, will follow below.

Acknowledgement of Paternity

The easiest way to establish paternity is for both parents to voluntarily sign an acknowledgment of paternity before a notary public or two witnesses, and file it with Office of Vital Statistics. This form represents an acceptance by both parties that they are the named child’s natural parents and assume the responsibility to provide financial and medical support until the child becomes an adult. Either party has 60 days from the date the form is executed to cancel its effect. If it is not cancelled during this period, the legal paternity of the child is established, and can only be overturned by a court order. Note that unless both parents sign and consent to the obligations imposed by this acknowledgement, paternity can only be established via court order.

Putative Father Registry

In situations where a man believes he is the father of an unborn child, and fears the mother will put the child up for adoption without his knowledge or consent, he can place his name on Florida’s putative father registry. Placing a name on this list entitles an unmarried biological father to receive notice of a possible adoption and preserves his right to consent to an adoption before his parental rights can be terminated. A father can register his name or revoke his claim of paternity at any time prior to the birth of the child. However, once a petition to terminate parental rights is filed, the man can no longer add his name to the registry.

Genetic Testing

Finally, if a party is seeking to establish paternity by court order, the court has the option at any time to order the mother, father, or child to submit a sample for DNA testing. The test results and conclusions of the laboratory are submitted to the court, and objections to the laboratory’s findings must be filed at least 10 days prior to the final hearing. If the test shows the probability of paternity is 95 percent or higher, a rebuttable presumption is created that the man is the child’s biological father.

Talk to a Family Law Attorney

If you are a father concerned about protecting your parental rights, consult a family law attorney to learn what your legal options and rights are. This is especially important if you are estranged from the child’s mother due to the strict time limits to claim parentage. The Fort Lauderdale law firm of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. is experienced with the complexities of the law in this area, and can help you secure your parental rights. Contact the office to schedule a free consultation.

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