Being a father can be a rewarding experience. Unfortunately, new information that suggests you are not, in fact, the father of a child can disrupt the positivity involved. In some instances, you may choose to continue a relationship with the child on the basis of being a legal father rather than a biological father. Yet, this isn’t always a practical or appropriate option.
In order to move beyond the situation, it’s important to take official steps as per the legislative requirements of the Florida family courts. This is a serious legal process that benefits from representation by an experienced family attorney.
So, let’s take a look at how to disestablish paternity in Florida and what you should know about the process.
Why Disestablish Paternity?
Disestablishing paternity is always a serious matter. After all, there are serious financial, social, and potentially mental consequences for everyone involved. At the very least, the child you’ve raised as your own for years will find they have an entirely different biological parent. So, with significant stakes and emotions at play, why is it important to go through the process?
Firstly, it can be a matter of establishing the correct parental responsibility. Children have a right to expect both of their parents to provide them with the appropriate level of support and care. If you remain officially listed as their father, this can prevent them from receiving support from the right party in an official capacity.
Next, it’s financially in your best interests to disestablish paternity if you are not the father. According to Florida law, if you’re married to the mother at the time of birth, paternity is automatically assumed. If not, you may have voluntarily agreed to paternity based on the mother’s claims. Having previously agreed to paternity, this means you are legally responsible to pay child support. Until you have officially disestablished paternity, you remain responsible to make payments. If you cease making payments without going through the official processes, you may be liable for legal action.
Consult Your Attorney
Your first step should always be to consult with an attorney experienced in representing men in Florida family law cases. This is because the process to disestablish paternity can be quite complex in nature. The courts take such situations extremely seriously and require various types of paperwork and proof to be in place before proceeding.
An attorney with sufficient experience will have a thorough understanding not just of the processes that have to be performed but also the challenges men can face in paternity suits. Therefore, it’s important to work with a professional that has taken on multiple cases of this type. Be open with them about the full circumstances surrounding the matter. Let them know what led to you agreeing to paternity in the first place and what has led to you seeking disestablishment. From here, you will work together to arrange the most efficient and effective path forwards.
Identify the Grounds
One of the first steps you’ll take with your family law attorney is confirming that you have sufficient grounds for disestablishing paternity. The Florida courts are unlikely to look favorably upon a flimsy reason for filing a petition. Your grounds should fall into one of the following areas:
In all disestablishment of paternity cases, the impetus must be new information received calling the paternity into question. It can’t simply be the case that you are separating from the mother and now have suspicions that the child isn’t yours. However, you can usually proceed if you have received information from a third party that queries your parentage. For instance, if a close friend or family member claims to have been told by the mother that the child is not yours. Similarly, a third party could claim to be the parent, supported by information confirming they were with your partner at the time of conception.
Another potential source of external information is that the original paternity test was tampered with in some fashion. However, the way in which such tests are conducted usually makes this an unlikely scenario. Nevertheless, if information has been received from a reliable source, this can be grounds for reassessment.
Another source of new information that provides grounds for potential disestablishment is if the mother informs you that you are not, in fact, the father. They may also suggest that there is a chance you are not the father, while not being certain. This can be considered grounds to bring the matter to court for further investigation and testing.
The next step with your attorney is together the most appropriate evidence to support your case. This will be the basis upon which the courts will make their decision to accept or further consider your request for disestablishment of paternity. Potential evidence may include:
The primary form of evidence in disestablishing paternity is genetic testing. As such, wherever possible, this should be the first port of call. Usually, genetic testing can be arranged by the Florida Department of Revenue, which also ensures that the process is undertaken by a qualified scientific establishment. Both parents and the child must also be present for this testing. If the test is returned showing you are not in all likelihood the father, this can form the basis for disestablishment. However, if the mother doesn’t voluntarily agree to testing, you must petition the courts to have them issue the obligation to do so.
If you have a scientific test showing you are not the father, most other forms of evidence are unnecessary. However, if you require the court to compel the mother to submit to testing, the court will usually require other information. It can be wise to include witness statements or hard copies of other communications relating to the new information you received that called your paternity into question. This can help the courts to decide whether a genetic test is necessary.
File a Petition
With your evidence in hand, your family law attorney can then proceed with petitioning the court for disestablishment of paternity. Alongside your scientific evidence, this will include provision of affidavits. The first affidavit will attest that there is new information that calls paternity into question and what the nature of this information is. This is signed by the petitioner (you). The second affidavit confirms that you are up-to-date on all your current child support obligations. Alternatively, the second affidavit should show that you’ve generally complied with obligations and that lapses were due to inability to pay rather than refusal.
If there is sufficient evidence, the courts can then decide to disestablish paternity, in which case they will send a notification to the Office of Vital Statistics of the Department of Health to arrange for amendment of official records and issue of a new birth certificate. If more evidence is required, the court will arrange to compel the mother to comply with a scientific test.
However, there are some other factors to bear in mind. If you had adopted the child or you had previously agreed to the child being conceived through artificial insemination, a disestablishment of paternity will usually be denied. In addition, the disestablishment only ends future parental obligations. For legal purposes you are considered the legal father up until the point of disestablishment, which means you remain responsible for child support payments up until that date.
Call The Family Law Attorneys Men Trust (813) 652-0598
In Law We Trust Divorce and Family Lawyers is a premier firm of divorce lawyers representing men in family law proceedings. Our team of experienced professionals can guide you through the process of disestablishing paternity. Our knowledge 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.