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What Are My Rights As a Father?

Updated: Oct 13, 2023


By: Jarbath Peña Law Group

Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed a bipartisan bill into law. This law is designed to help biological fathers of children born out of wedlock establish paternity more easily. Signed just in time for Father’s Day, Florida Statutes § 742 took effect on July 1, 2023. This law makes it easier for fathers of children born out of wedlock to establish paternity and gain many paternal rights toward their children.

This new law is a step forward in paternal rights. However, there will likely be details in your paternity case that must still be established by court order to be enforceable. This is why you should always work with an experienced family law attorney who can fight for your rights.

Before the New Law

To appreciate the changes, we should first examine how paternity worked under the old law. Under the old law, the following applied:

  • If the child’s biological parents were married at the time of birth, the husband was assumed to be the biological father. As such, the child’s father and mother shared full parental rights.

  • If the child’s biological parents were not married at the time of the child’s birth, then the mother was considered the natural guardian and had full parental rights. No rights were automatically granted to the biological father.

In the second case, where the child is born out of wedlock, the father had two options regarding the child. These two options are still available to the unwed father under the new law.

Sue to Establish Paternity?

The father can sue in civil court to establish paternity. In this case, the father must file the proper paperwork with the family court system to get a hearing. If both parents agree to legal paternity before the hearing, they can sign a consent form that the court may adopt as a final order. If the parents do not agree, then the biological father will need to make the case to the judge that he is, indeed, the father and should have paternal rights. This will likely require genetic testing to prove the child is biologically related to the father.

Refrain from Seeking Paternal Rights?

The biological father can opt not to seek paternal rights. However, in many cases, this is short-lived because the child’s mother eventually sues for child support. Suppose the judge or magistrate grants the motion in favor of the mother. In that case, the court orders the biological father to pay child support without having any other parental rights bestowed upon him.

Unfair to Fathers?

Many fathers found this very unfair and objected to paying child support for a child they could not see nor establish a relationship with. In some cases, the mother would allow unofficial visitation—but that was solely up to the mother, and she could change her mind at any time. In other words, visitation in the absence of a judge’s order is not enforceable through the courts. So if the mother changed her mind and disallowed visitation, the father had little recourse.

However, the father could move to establish a wide range of paternal rights. This involved filing a petition, going to court, and having a judge hear your case. If the judge granted the petition, the father gained the legal right to participate in his child’s upbringing. He would now be entitled to spend time with his child, and he could participate in decision-making about his child’s medical care, education, and religious upbringing.

After the New Law

The new law allows the unwed biological father to establish legal paternity more easily. Once established, legal paternity comes with both full parental obligations and rights.

At Birth

If you are the biological father and you want full paternity rights at the birth of the child, you can fill out a Paternity Acknowledgement form. According to the Florida Department of Revenue: “If the mother and father are not married when the child is born, the child's father can fill out and sign the Paternity Acknowledgment form (also called the DH-511) in the hospital. Both parents must fill out and sign the form in the presence of a notary public provided by the hospital.” Once you sign the form, the law considers you the legal father. The hospital submits the form to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, thereby placing your name on the birth certificate.

Once your name is on the birth certificate, you now have all the rights of legal fatherhood. You no longer have to petition the court to obtain your right to be involved in your child’s life.

After the Birth of the Child

The simplest method to establish paternity rights once the child comes home from the hospital is to file an Acknowledgment of Paternity with the court. The acknowledgment must be signed by both parents, witnessed, and notarized. The form establishes paternity if not rescinded within 60 days after the date it is signed. Once again, under the new law, once paternity is acknowledged, the father has full paternal rights along with the financial obligation of supporting the child.

What Does This Mean for Parents?

Unlike before, this new law enables biological dads to obtain all the rights and responsibilities of fatherhood as soon as paternity is established. They no longer have to go to court to get those rights. However, the rights are undefined. For example, as the father, you now have the obligation to pay or receive child support, and you have the right to parent your child and cooperate in making decisions regarding your child’s life. However, the amount of child support and the timesharing schedule must still be defined by the courts.

We’re Here When You Need Us

Your children and family are important to you. So when your ability to see your child is on the line, you will want to lean on an experienced and compassionate family law attorney like those at the Jarbath Peña Law Group. We know all of the ins and outs of the family court system and can file the proper paperwork for you while also representing you in court. You can reach us at 305-615-1005 or through our online contact form.

We look forward to serving you!

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