How Long Does a Father Have to Establish Paternity?

Establishing your paternity is an important step. This isn’t just because it enshrines your rights and responsibilities as a parent-in-law. It also helps to ensure you and the child in question can build your relationship, even if you only become aware of your potential fatherhood when they’re a teenager.

Time plays a role in paternity cases. You certainly want to ensure the process is as swift and efficient as possible. After all, a shorter case means that you get more time with your child if the result is positive and you mitigate your financial burden if it turns out to be negative. This is why it can be so important to collaborate with a family lawyer with experience representing men in the Florida court system. They can help you identify the most timely and appropriate course of action for your specific circumstances.

One important time-related element to review is how long a father has to establish their paternity. Let’s take a look at this issue, alongside any relevant time limits and expected case lengths that might impact this.

The Simple Answer

So, how long does a father have to establish paternity? This question can be approached in a couple of ways. If you’re seeking to establish paternity for custody or visitation purposes, the simple answer is you have up until the child is 18, according to the Florida Department of Revenue. At any point up until this time, you can start the process for proving you’re the father, thereby opening the door to asserting your rights to contact.

Another way to look at it is in relation to how long you have to establish your paternity when you’re being pursued for child support costs and other responsibilities. This isn’t something that tends to be standardized. If the mother petitions for a paternity case, the family courts will usually serve papers and schedule a court appearance within a time they consider to be reasonable.

Nevertheless, there are various aspects that can contribute to how long a father has to establish paternity. It’s worth exploring some of these a little further.

Why the Age Limit?

Fathers in Florida have up until the age of 18 to establish paternity, but why does the court set this limit? 18 is what the Florida statutes consider to be the age of maturity. In relation to legal cases connected to paternity, there is a statute of limitations of 4 years beyond this age. That said, for all practical purposes, as a father you should be seeking to establish your paternity before that age.

This age limit is in place largely for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the years before this age are when the law states that parents should provide financial support to their children. From the age of 18 onwards, they’re usually considered old enough to provide for themselves or access other forms of support should they require it.

In addition, this is also the age at which the Florida courts state the rights parents have to visitation with or custody of children ends. Prior to this point, if the courts assert a relevant order, there is a legally binding obligation for your ex to ensure your child attends their prearranged visitation times with you. This means that proving paternity after the age of 18, when this obligation has ended, tends not to serve a practical purpose.

How Does the Assumption of Paternity Affect the Situation?

Florida’s paternity system operates to some extent on an assumption of who the father is. Specifically, if the mother is married at the time of the birth, her husband is automatically assumed to be the father. The result being that he has all the rights and responsibilities that go along with this.

Therefore, even if you are no longer married to the mother, if you were married at the time of the child’s birth, you are assumed to be the father. Aside from the general age limit of 18, you will usually have no specific amount of time to prove your parenthood. Your paternity should already be a matter of record with the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics. The only real common caveat to this is if another party has been proven through genetic testing or other means to be the father.

However, if you’re contesting the assumption of paternity, time can certainly be a factor. Your marriage means that you’re immediately on the line for child support payments. Even years down the line, the mother may make requests for these and any back payments. It is important to set the ball rolling on establishing paternity as soon as possible to limit the financial impact this may have on you.

How Long Does Establishing Paternity Take?

In understanding how long a father has to establish paternity, it’s important to have a sense of how long the process itself takes. This enables you to make sensible decisions about your timing and approach to your case. The length of time it takes to establish paternity can certainly vary, depending on the circumstances.

Affidavit of paternity

The simplest way for fathers to establish paternity is usually through an Affidavit of Paternity. This is generally applicable to cases in which neither the mother nor the father dispute paternity. The mother and father complete a form that voluntarily acknowledges who the father is and asserts that he has the rights and responsibilities that go along with this. This has to be notarized and witnessed, though it’s also wise to work with a lawyer to ensure you fully understand the ramifications of this document. Once submitted to the Florida Bureau of Vital Statistics, the paternity is legally enshrined. The only way this becomes invalid is by evidence of alternative paternity or if either of the parties cancels the affidavit within the 60 day period.

Genetic Testing

If the parents aren’t married and either party denies paternity, the matter may be resolved through genetic testing. If both parties agree to this process, it’s not necessary to gain a court order. This can significantly reduce how long a father has to wait to establish paternity. The Florida Department of Revenue’s Child Support program can arrange testing free of charge. After contacting the Department of Revenue, all parties involved will be issued with the soonest possible time and date to attend a testing appointment. It usually takes 2 weeks after testing to receive the results. If positive the Department of Revenue immediately issues a legally binding Administrative Order of Paternity.

Court Petition

If either party denies paternity and doesn’t voluntarily agree to a genetic test, the other party is able to petition the Florida family courts. This can be among the more lengthy ways for a father to establish paternity, with the potential for the process to be disrupted by various factors. Not the least of these is the fact that the family courts are busy and you must wait for a time slot. If your ex further derails this by failing to appear or requesting rescheduling, you can be tied up for months. It is, therefore, vital to work with an experienced family law attorney that understands the challenges fathers face and help you to mitigate any potential delays. If the mother fails to appear for the case, your lawyer may even be able to ask the judge to rule automatically in your favor in the interim. If there is a genuine question regarding paternity, the court may then order that a genetic test is taken. Arranging this then adds time to the process.

Call The Family Law Attorneys Men Trust (813) 415-3510

In Law We Trust Divorce and Family Lawyers is a premier firm of divorce lawyers representing men in family law proceedings. We have years of experience representing men who are establishing paternity through custody and child support cases. Our experience and skills help to guide our clients through the challenges of the Florida family law courts and reach a fair outcome. Call us today and get the proper representation men need and deserve.



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