Child Support Enforcement and Paternity Issues
In Florida, when a child is born out of wedlock, the mother is considered the natural, legal custodian of the child even if the father is present at the birth and acknowledges paternity with hospital officials by signing the birth documents. Even though executing an acknowledgment of paternity at the hospital creates a presumption of paternity as a matter of law, it is important to understand that an acknowledgment of paternity on a birth certificate does not create any parental rights prior to a court order establishing the legal relationship between the biological father and the child. Until there is an order of establishing parental rights, only an unwed mother may be entitled to a pick up order (which is used if a parent flees with the child) and it is important for father’s to realize that they cannot stop an unwed mother from leaving the state unless the father has an order from the Court establishing his legal rights to the child.
The biological father who has not established his rights is referred to as the “putative father”. Pursuant to Florida law, if you suspect that you might be a putative father of a child, you must register with the State of Florida’s putative father registry. To determine those parental rights a biological father needs to file a Petition to Determine Paternity, with or without the assistance of an attorney. If you cannot afford the assistance of an attorney, be aware that there are Supreme Court approved forms located at www.flcourts.org that can be used. Until there is an order establishing the legal relationship between the child and the putative father, all timesharing with the child is at the discretion of the child’s mother. It’s important to note that both the father and the mother of the child can file a Petition to Establish Paternity to obtain legal rights and a parenting plan.
Child Support Enforcement through the Department of Revenue will eventually become involved in cases in which child support is an issue, especially if the mother receives state aid, such as Medicaid and food stamps. Even if a father has been ordered to pay child support by a hearing officer in a Department of Revenue Child Support Enforcement case, the father still has no legal parental rights until filing a Petition to Establish Paternity and the Court has entered a Final Judgment establishing his rights. Child Support Enforcement hearings are solely related to establishing child support. The hearing officer at these hearings does not have the authority to order any kind of parental rights or timesharing with the father and the child. It is important that if any proceeding to establish paternity and support is brought by the Department of Revenue on behalf of the natural mother, that a Petition to Establish Shared Parental Responsibility and Parenting Plan be filed contemporaneously and a motion to abate the DOR proceeding be filed so that support is not established prior to establishing the parenting plan. The number of overnights that a child spend with the biological father is directly related to the calculation of child support.
If you are a father with a child born out of wedlock but do not know the location of your child or the mother of your child, it is imperative that you register with the Putative Father Registry to prevent your child from being adopted without your consent. You should consider contacting an experienced family law attorney to assist you with this to protect your rights as a father and help guide you through the complicated issues that can arise in a paternity action.