This Guide will give some basic guidelines to help you establish Paternity and the related relief, the "Rights" to your child.
Overview of Paternity and Father's Rights in Florida
Paternity is defined as the state of being a father; fatherhood. To state the obvious, we know who the mother is; the child is born from the mother. However for the father we must establish paternity when a child is born out of wedlock. Paternity need not be established when the child is born of an intact marriage, as there is a presumption that a child born during the marriage is a child of the parents. Establishing "paternity" does not necessarily give a father what most people call "rights" to the child. A Mother of a child born out of wedlock has all the rights to the child until the father goes to Court and makes a request those rights. Florida Statute 744.301 states the mother of a child born out of wedlock is the natural guardian of the child and is entitled to primary residential care and custody of the child unless the court enters an order stating otherwise.
There are several ways paternity can be established, as a matter of law, and you can find these different ways in Florida Statute 742.10(1): 1. The parties acknowledge it and files an affidavit with the clerk; or 2. The Parties sign the Birth Certificate; or 3. When the Department of Revenue pursues the father; or 4. The Court establishes paternity. This will be discussed more below. Establishing paternity is the first step to getting the rights to your child, not the last. Just because you're the dad, it does not mean you have a say so in the child's life. You need that order from the court that gives you the rights to make decisions in your child's life and have actual time-sharing.
Establish your Rights to the Child.
1. In order to get that order from the Court you must start at the courthouse. File a Petition the Circuit Court in the County in which you reside. You must complete the following Florida Supreme Court Approved Family Law Forms in order to proceed: a. 12.983(a) - Petition to Determine Paternity and for Related Relief. b. 12.902(d) - Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Affidavit c. 12.902(b) or 12.902(c) Financial Affidavit. d. 12.910(a) - Summons. e. 12.910(b) - Process Service Memorandum f. 12.900(h) - Notice of Related Case. g. 12.928 - Cover Sheet for Family Court Cases 2. Take these completed signed and notarized forms to the Clerk of the Court. Bring 3 copies of each document so you have enough to get a True Copy of what was filed. The Clerk will send a set to the Sheriff for service. 3. When the Sheriff serves the Mother you will be ready to proceed.
After Service of the Petition on the Mother
When the Sheriff has served the petition on the Mother she will either answer the Petition or she may choose to ignore it. If she does ignore the petition, and does not file and answer to your petition, then you must obtain a default from the Clerk. Complete a Florida Family Law Form 12.922(a) - Motion for Default, as well as the 12.922(b) - Default and take these to the Clerk. Complete and file a Parenting Plan - Family Law Form 12.995(a). It should be consistent with your Petition. For example if you asked for Shared Parental Responsibility in the Petition, don't ask for Sole Parental Responsibility in the Parenting Plan. You must then set the matter for Final Hearing. Contact the Courts Judicial Assistant or Case Manager in learning how to go about setting your Final Hearing.
Should the Mother respond to the Petition you will generally have to go to Mediation before the Court will hear your issues. Mediation is a process where you and your child's mother can sit down with a neutral party to resolve all your issues. You can obtain a private mediator, but they are generally more costly than a Court Appointed Mediator. Check with the Courts Judicial Assistant or Case Manager about obtaining an Order for State Subsidized Mediation. If mediation is successful then the Court may on it on grant a Final Judgment or you may have to then set the matter for Final Hearing. Contact the Courts Judicial Assistant or Case Manager in learning how to go about setting your Final Hearing.
Should Mediation Fail
Should you and the mother not come to an agreement that settles all your issues then you must have the judge resolve your issues for you. The Court will conduct a Final Hearing and take into account all the evidence and your testimony. When the time comes make sure you have all the witnesses and evidence ready to go. The Court may have issues a trial order where he/she directs the parties to exchange certain information by a certain time. Follow and comply with this order. You may have to provide a witness list or and exhibit list to the other party. At Final Hearing you will have an opportunity to present this evidence and these witnesses to the court as well as be able to present your side of the story. So make a checklist of all thing you want the court be informed on, this way you don't forget anything.
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