Paternity: Child Custody and Support Rights and Responsibilities of the Unmarried
By Orlando Paternity Rights Lawyer Eduardo J. Mejias
Practicing Exclusively Family Law Since 2011
Paternity Cases Establish Parental Rights and Responsibilities Regarding Child Custody and Support
Most of what is involved in paternity family court cases is about establishing parental rights and responsibilities regarding child custody and support, just as in cases of divorcing spouses with children. Most of the litigation in these cases involve the creation of a parenting plan, the assignment of parental responsibilities, and the establishment of a child custody and support obligations. Essentially, these cases resolve the parenting issues that arise between two unmarried parents.
Proving or disproving that a man is the biological father of a child with a DNA test is an element of many paternity actions, but it is not what most of this type of family court case is about.
The Petition To Establish Paternity
To establish paternity, the mother or father who files its petition (the “Petitioner’) must allege that sexual intercourse took place with the non-filing parent (the “Respondent”) and that a child was born as a result. If the Respondent simply admits this allegation in the answer to the Petition, then the legal issue of the identity of the father is resolved forever.
However, if the Respondent alleged to be the unmarried father of the child challenges the allegation of his fatherhood, he must file a motion for genetic testing with the trial court. The family law judge will typically order that a DNA paternity test be administered to the alleged unmarried father and the child.
Normally, when the man files the petition to disprove his fatherhood, the judge will order the alleged father to pay for the test in its entirety. However, if the test results are negative, the mother must usually reimburse him.
These guidelines apply in reverse when the mother seeks a test in an effort to disprove the fatherhood of the alleged father.
In almost all these cases, the trial court will accept a positive test result as conclusive evidence that establishes the fatherhood of the alleged father. In rare cases, one parent may request a hearing to challenge the authenticity or accuracy of the test results by questioning the methods used, or the chain of custody of the test results. In those situations, the trial judge at a hearing will make the factual determination of whether the test results are reliable.
Creating A Parenting Plan
Once fatherhood is established, a family court will create a parenting plan featuring a custody time sharing schedule for the parents and the child or children and the amount of child support. The trial judge will evaluate the factors contained in Chapter 61.13, Florida Statutes, which are the same ones used to create parenting plans for divorcing parents. Thus, it makes no difference whether the child was born from a casual affair or a long-term marriage: The Court will use the same criteria. Please see Child Custody and Support for more information.
Chapter 61.13 contains many factors that affect the parenting plan, but they all fall under the umbrella of “the best interests of the child.” Unfortunately, many single fathers and mothers overlook this crucial distinction. Instead of focusing on what parenting plan will benefit their child the most, they relentlessly paint the other parent as the morally inferior person. As their attorney, I always remind these clients that a family law judge will create a parenting plan that is child-centric, not one that punishes or rewards a parent. My job as your paternity lawyer is not just to represent you in court, but also to inform you, advise you and prepare you for the hearings and trials.
As with divorce actions involving children, parental responsibility for child custody in a paternity action comes in three forms: (1) shared parental responsibility, (2) shared parental responsibility with ultimate decision-making authority resting with one parent and (3) sole parental responsibility.
Florida courts favor shared parental responsibility. Those parents who operate under this arrangement have equal decision-making authority on all of the major issues in a child’s life. This holds true regardless of the percentage of the overnights each one has with their children.
Shared parental responsibility with equal decision-making authority means that, while the parents must consult with each other regarding major decisions affecting the child, the parent with the ultimate decision-making authority has the “final say” if there is a disagreement.
Sole parental responsibility, which is rarely ordered, vests one parent with the ability to unilaterally make all parenting decisions without even consulting with the other parent.
How AAA Family Law Can Help You With Your Case
If you are an unmarried father or mother with a paternity issue in the Orlando metro area, please call Eduardo J. Mejias of AAA Family at (407) 260-6001 to schedule an initial consultation. See Our Retainer Fee Policies.
We can be your parental rights lawyer through the trial and, if necessary, in any appeals to one of the district courts of appeal in Florida.
At the consultation I will listen to your description of the issues and realistically assess your situation. Then I will create a strategy to protect your parental right and achieve your objectives. And I will quote you a fixed attorney retainer fee before signing a contract for legal services or making any payment. When you do sign with AAA Family Law, I will keep informed of the progress of your case by returning phone calls and emails within 24 hours on business days.
Our attorney retainer fees to be your lawyer in a paternity case range from $2,100 to $3,000 depending on the level of complexity of the case. Read Our Retainer Fee Policies for the trial attorney retainer fee ranges and the court costs.
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