Challenging a Paternity Claim
Being a parent is one of the most rewarding experiences a person can have, but it comes with many significant and long-term responsibilities. Consequently, before investing the time and effort into raising a child, a man faced with uncertainty about the parentage of his child may need to initiate a legal challenge to paternity to ensure his rights are fully protected. Biological and legal parentage are not the same thing, and only the man recognized as a child’s legal father will have a right to parenting time, as well as the obligation to pay child support. A biological father is genetically related to the child, and may be the legal father as well, but this is not always the case. The designation as a child’s legal father comes automatically if the parents are married, and may be attained by unmarried fathers through a court order or by signing a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity. Once paternity is legally established, the father is expected to financially support the child until adulthood, while holding the right to sue for parenting time or decision-making authority in case the couple separates and the mother tries to block the father’s access.
Usually, findings of paternity are final, and the father has no reason to think he is not biologically related to the child. However, people are not always honest, and a man may later find he has good reason to question his relation to the child. Florida does provide a procedure to disestablish paternity, which is complicated and hard to achieve, but worth the trouble if the purported father is truly unrelated to the child. A discussion of when a petition to disestablish paternity may be filed, and what a court will expect to see before granting this request, will follow below.
When a Petition May Be Filed
The main purpose of disestablishing paternity is to terminate the obligation to pay child support. Thus, one of the preliminary requirements to file a petition is that the child is still a minor and holds the legal right of support from both parents. Importantly, the man is expected to be current on child support payments or at least in substantial compliance with payment obligations. Further, the man cannot have legally adopted the child, stopped the biological father from asserting his rights, or conceived the child through artificial insemination while married to the mother.
Proving Paternity Is Invalid
If the petition is successful, the court will declare the man is not the child’s legal father, and end the ongoing obligation to pay child support. To get to this point, though, certain information must be provided to the court, including an affidavit stating new evidence that brings paternity into doubt was discovered after paternity was established. In other words, the evidence against paternity cannot have been known when the man was named the legal father. Secondly, a DNA test showing the purported father and child are not related, a request for the court to order DNA testing, or a statement that a DNA sample from the child was not obtainable, must be presented to the judge as well. Assuming these items are provided, it is still possible the court may reject the petition, if the man took actions that negated his claim he should not be the legal father, such as:
- marrying the woman and holding himself out as the father;
- signing a voluntary acknowledgement of paternity;
- permitting his name to be listed on the birth certificate; or
- issuing a sworn statement he is the father.
Essentially, if the man voluntarily and affirmatively proclaims paternity, a court will be less apt to overturn this determination, especially if disestablishment is viewed as against the best interests of the child.
Contact an Orlando Family Lawyer
Paternity can be a loaded issue, and if you have questions about a standing paternity order, or want to establish one, talk to the experienced family law attorneys at the Donna Hung Law Group. Handling all aspects of divorce and family, our Orlando law firm can help you achieve the appropriate result. Contact us (407) 999-0099 for a consultation.