Before we get started it is important to know that I am confused and so are most attorneys, many Judges and basically all non-legal lay people about Paternity law in Florida. So, this blog and the one to follow may create more questions than answers, but hopefully, brings some level of enlightenment to this complicated and bizarre area of law.
Let's start at the beginning. When a Father and Mother have a child and are not married, the Father has no legal relationship to that child. Many times what happens next is that a Father signs a form, called an Acknowledgment of Paternity in order to add his name to the child birth certificate. You MUST sign this form to add your name to a birth certificate if you are not married to the child's mother. This form causes significant confusion for Fathers. The form states: "RIGHTS, RESPONSIBILITIES AND DUTIES: When both parents sign this ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PATERNITY they swear they are the natural parents of this child. After signing, either parent has the right to cancel the effect of the acknowledgment within 60 days unless there has been a court hearing regarding that parent and the child. If there is no court hearing within 60 days of when the acknowledgment is signed, paternity is legally established under the laws of Florida." This form leads many fathers to reasonably believe that once signed they have rights to their children. However, it doesn't actually do what most think it does.
My firm, and countless others, often tell Fathers your name on a birth certificate does not give you rights to the child. That is a basically a true statement and is accurate as it pertains to what most people would refer to as "custody" rights, the rights most people think of when referring to "rights" to your child. These are the rights to either see the child (time-sharing) or make decisions for the child (parental responsibility). It is true, under Florida Statute 744.301, our Natural Guardians statute that if you have never been to Court, a father does not have either time-sharing or decision making rights to the child.
So what rights does that ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF PATERNITY form give someone? Let's save that for the next post.