Signing a birth certificate (or acknowledgment of paternity) alone does not give you any custody or timesharing rights over your child.
In the legal profession, official fatherhood is referred to as paternity. Paternity gives both parents the ability to get a child support or custody order and have a say in the legal decisions about the child. In Florida, there are several methods to establish paternity because every child deserves to have a legal father. Men and women often visit our family law firm in Tallahassee with questions as to their rights as fathers. The law on these issues is often misunderstood.
If two parents are legally married before the child’s birth, paternity for that child is automatically established on the day of the child’s birth (the husband becomes the legal father) and the paperwork is filled out by the hospital staff. This is a very common method, yet with an increasing number of children being born out wedlock, other routes to establishing paternity have been created. As Tallahassee divorce and child custody lawyers, we’re often asked “does signing my child’s birth certificate give me any custody or visitation rights?”
As described below, other than marriage, there are several ways to establish paternity. However, custodial rights over a child in Florida are not granted unless you were married to the child’s mother at the time of birth or you obtain an Order Establishing Paternity, granting you parental responsibility and timesharing, from the Court.
On the day of a child’s birth, unmarried parents have the opportunity to sign a paternity acknowledgement form at the hospital. The hospital will send this form to the Office of Vital Statistics and the legal father’s name will be recorded on the child’s birth certificate. Additionally, if both parents are not present at the time of the child’s birth, they have the ability to print an Acknowledgment of Paternity form online from the Florida Department of Revenue. The form must be completed by both parents, notarized and sent to the Office of Vital Statistics. The Father’s name on the birth certificate entitles him to notice in a later dependency proceeding or prior to the child being given up for adoption. But as described above, no custodial rights are granted just because a father’s name is on the birth certificate. This is something that every Tallahassee family law attorney has had to answer at one time or another because of the misinformation that exists. Despite the lack of rights provided by being on the child’s birth certificate, you should not take signing these forms lightly. Acknowledging paternity will require you to pay child support and signing these forms will make it very difficult to later disestablish paternity without genetic testing and proof that you were under the mistaken belief you were the child’s father.
Administrative and state court procedures requiring genetic testing are available to establish paternity. If one parent is requesting child support, custody or dependency, a judge may order a genetic test to establish paternity. Once completed, a genetic test will serve as a judge’s primary tool for determining paternity. If an alleged parent is served and neglects to attend court hearings or scheduled genetic tests, a judge may ‘default’ that parent as the legal father.
A legal father of a child may wish to terminate his status of paternity if he discovers new evidence after assuming the role of a legal father. Such evidence will usually suggest to the father that he is not the biological father of the child. In order to terminate paternity status, the court will order genetic tests of the child and father. If the tests determine the alleged father to not be the father, then paternity may be disestablished by a judge. However, the answers are not always so simple. I recall as a younger Tallahassee family law attorney, consulting with a father who had cared for a child for several years before learning that the child was not his. He wanted to disestablish paternity and we analyzed the various strategies he could take. We were both surprised at the difficulty that might be involved if the biological father did not wish to accept responsibility for the child. Of course every case is different. But I mention this example to describe how you should consult a Tallahassee family lawyer to better understand your rights before taking legal action to establish or disestablish paternity.