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Establishing legal paternity in Florida

The legal definition of "family" has never been entirely clear cut. Florida law contains several clauses that allow for non-traditional families to gain or maintain legal rights. As in most cases involving offspring, the court's first priority is the best interests of children.

Florida law assumes that a married woman's child is also the husband's child. If the parents are not married, however, they can voluntarily acknowledge paternity with a form submitted to the county clerk. The legal assumption of paternity is official once the legal father has sworn an oath along with the document.

Once the form has been solemnized, voluntary acknowledgement cannot be reversed after 60 days. Fraud or extreme pressure to get a parent to sign the form must be proven afterward to redact the paternity form.

Legal paternity includes all rights and responsibilities of a father, including visitation rights and decisions in how the child is raised. Financial child support or other support of a child's needs as ordered by the court also apply to the legal father.

If paternity is not voluntarily acknowledged, either the mother or the man claiming to be the father may sue to establish paternity in a Florida court. The Florida Department of Revenue may also sue for paternity, but only to establish child support. If the case begins while a baby is still gestating, the court cannot finalize the other until birth.

If a biological and legal father are not the same person, the biological father may bring a paternity action to become the legal father. It is up to a judge, however, to determine legal status based on the best interests of the child.

Source: Plant City Observer, "Good appeal: How to establish paternity in Florida," Shiobhan Olivero, accessed Aug. 14, 2017

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