The primary purpose of a paternity suit is to identify the biological father of a child born out of wedlock, and to require that the father provide support for the child. Once a court order is entered determining the biological father to be the legal father of the child, the father can seek timesharing with the child. Timesharing is a determination of schedule that the child will spend with both parents.
If a paternity case is filed by the Florida Department of Revenue on behalf of the mother, then the court’s jurisdiction is limited to determining the legal father of the child and the amount of child support the father will pay. In these cases the court does not have the authority to award any timesharing for the father.
Only in paternity cases where the Florida Department of Revenue is not involved will the court have jurisdiction to award a timesharing schedule for the parents.
Once paternity is established the complex issues of child support, retroactive child support, and reimbursement of the birth mother’s medical expenses must be dealt with. Retroactive child support can be awarded for 24 months prior to the petition to establish paternity being filed with the court. For example, if child support is established at $400 per month, than 24 months of retroactive child support would equal $9,600!! That means that a father would owe $9,600 for the prior 24 months, unless the father could show proof of child support paid for the child. Typically retroactive child support is awarded at 20% of the ongoing obligation. In this example the ongoing obligation is $400 per month. 20% of $400 is $80 dollars. That means the court would order $480 per month to be paid. $400 for ongoing child support and $80 towards the arrears of $9,600, which is 120 months or 10 years to pay in full.
Paternity lawsuits can be filed in the county in which the mother resides or where county in which the father resides. In many cases the mother is clear across the state and files a paternity case and you end up litigating in another county.
Either parent can file for a determination of paternity. In many cases the father files the lawsuit because he wants to be a Dad and the mother does not want him in the child’s life. The father is left with no choice but to establish his legal rights.
If you are going to ask for a court ordered time sharing schedule you need to be very familiar with Florida Statute 61.13(3)(a-t). That statute provides the 20 criteria the court must consider in determining a timesharing schedule.
The public policy of Florida provides that a child born out of wedlock is entitled to the same legal protection as a legitimate child.
There are many cases in which the mother does not know who the father is. If you think that you are not the father I suggest that you get a paternity test to resolve all doubts. If you are not the father you will not owe a duty to support the child and you will not be entitled to any timesharing with the child, even if you have acted as the child’s father and are the only father that child knows. This can be devastating for you and the child.
Under current Florida law paternity will been established if:
- The mother and father were married when the child was born;
- The mother and the father signed an Acknowledgement of Paternity;
- The father signed the birth certificate in the hospital.
Why is paternity important? A child with a legal father is more likely to:
- Develop a strong bond with the father.
- Do well in school.
- Have better health care.
- Receive child support.
- Have inheritance rights.
- Have rights to social security, veterans and other benefits.
- The legal father will have a say on legal decisions about the child.
- The legal father will have the right to regular contact with the child.