Changes To Florida Paternity & Child Support Law
Historically, only the mother of a newborn child would automatically be entered onto that child’s birth certificate – the father, unless married to the mother, would have to jump through several hoops before being listed as that child’s legal father. Even then, if a man prevailed in a proceeding to establish paternity, the only right they would in theory win was the right to pay child support and to try and seek visitation. In 2023, though, Florida’s governor signed major changes into the law which grants some ‘unwed fathers’ more rights to their own children.
Paternity Did Not Confer Rights
When a child is born to unmarried biological parents, there are several options by which they can establish the child’s paternity. The most commonly used, and arguably the simplest option, is for both parents to execute what is known as a voluntary acknowledgment or affidavit of paternity; this creates a ‘rebuttable presumption’ that the two signatories to that document are the child’s legal parents. This does allow for a 60-day period in case one or both signers decide to “rescind the acknowledgment” of paternity, but most do not take advantage.
Historically, an acknowledgment of paternity was only the first step for most biological fathers; instead of granting parental rights, paternity merely granted the right to seek them. It also mandated a father pay child support in the majority of situations, even if they ultimately wound up having no right to be in their child’s life. The 2023 law changes that, granting most unwed fathers a web of rights and responsibility they may retain unless they do something to lose it.
Both Parents Are “Natural Guardians”
Perhaps the most important part of the newly implemented ‘fathers’ rights’ law is the change to Florida’s so-called ‘natural guardian’ statute. Previously, only the mother would be named the ‘natural guardian’ of a child born out of wedlock; now, the statute explicitly says that “the parents jointly” are the natural guardians of their children, both adopted and biological, unless their parental rights have been terminated. This gives fathers, even unwed ones, more rights to make decisions about their children’s lives (in concert with the mother), which can make an enormous difference to the well-being of both parents and child.
The only potential downside to this change in paternity law is that in families where mother and father may not see eye to eye, more litigation may have to occur to iron out the parenting plan and support order that will serve the best interests of the child. It is important to remember that the right of support belongs specifically to the child, rather than to either parent – it cannot be waived or signed away; the court will enforce it against both parents if the legal obligation exists.
Contact A Hollywood, FL Family Lawyer
As of this writing, the law is unclear as to whether these changes are retroactive or not, but regardless, it is important to be aware of new rights and responsibilities, especially with regard to support. If you have questions or concerns about your legal rights and responsibilities, calling a Hollywood, FL family lawyer from the Law Offices of Steven A. Mason, P.A. may help to get them managed. Call our office today at (954) 963-5900 for personalized attention.