Disputes over child custody, child support and visitation are probably understood by most people in Florida only in the context of divorce. That might have been true 20 years ago, but not today. Children are born out of wedlock all the time. And regardless of whether parents are married or not, the law makes the presumption that both parents of a child have equal obligations to provide for the child’s best interest.

When it comes to parental rights, though, the law tends to make a distinction between married and unmarried couples. The biggest difference is that if an unwed father wants to exercise his rights he must establish that right by initiating a paternity action.

Locking down the issue of paternity can be important for a lot of reasons. It can help ensure that a child has the greatest level of financial support possible and eligibility for government benefits such as Social Security or inheritances. It can also help flesh out the child’s family medical history.

So how is paternity established? In Florida, there are several ways to do it. As we’ve already noted, it’s presumed if the parents are married at the time the child is born.

In cases where the parents are not married, paternity can be established if both parents sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form. The form can be signed either at the hospital where the baby was born or later, but it must be signed by both parents at the same time and in front of two witnesses or a notary public.

Legal rights can also be set by Administrative Order. This doesn’t require going to court, but it does require genetic testing of the mother, putative father and the child. In some instances, a case may be referred to the court and a judge can then issue a court order establishing paternity.

If the natural parents who were unwed at the time of the birth later marry, paternity can be assigned based on Legitimation. Once again, paternity of the husband is presumed. But Legitimation involves filing proper papers with the court to have the father’s name added to the birth certificate.

You can tell from this brief post that establishing paternity can be complicated and that’s why working with an experienced attorney is always advised.