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Natural Guardians and Establishing Paternity Rights in Florida

As time marches on, more and more unwed people are having babies together and finding ways to make it work for themselves and their children. But in Florida, establishing paternity can be

tricky. People tend to automatically assume that if they list the father’s name on the birth certificate, that man is the child’s father in every legal sense. You may be surprised to find out that this is not true. Today, we will attempt to answer common questions about how Florida views natural guardians and how a father can establish his paternity rights.

Natural Guardian

What is a natural guardian? The law states that natural guardians of a child are:

● Both parents, unless a court terminates the parental rights of one or both parents;

● The surviving parent, if one parent dies; and

● If the parents are unmarried, the mother of any child is considered the natural guardian.

That last part concerns us most today. It is important to know that if parents are not married

when the child is born, the mother is the natural guardian and is entitled to primary custody and residential care of the child. These rights stay with the mother unless a court declares otherwise through a court order.

However, this law gives fathers no such automatic rights—unless they are married to the child’s mother at the time of birth. And even then, those rights could be called into question at a later time. So let’s take a look at how a father can establish paternity and claim rights to their own child.

Establishing Paternity in Florida

There are a handful of different methods by which you can establish that you are the father of a child.

If You’re Married, You Are the Dad

According to Florida law, if the mother and father are married when the child is born, the

husband is legally presumed to be the child’s father. Therefore, no further action is required of the husband to obtain the rights and responsibilities of fatherhood. Interestingly, this holds true even if the child is not the husband’s biological child. This presumption persists unless someone challenges fatherhood in court.

Acknowledgment of Paternity

If the parents are unwed at the time of birth, both parents may sign an Acknowledgment of

Paternity Form. When both parents agree to paternity, they often sign this form in the hospital shortly after the child’s birth. However, they can also print the form and mail it to the Office of Vital Statistics. When parents sign the form at the hospital, it is notarized and the hospital submits the form to the Office of Vital Statistics. This process results in the father’s name appearing on the child’s birth certificate.

Many men assume that this acknowledgment grants them all rights to their child. However, this is not true. In Florida, signing this form means that the man is claiming the child as his own, and this signature will make it difficult to claim later that the child is not his. It will give you due process rights as the father so that if the mother attempts to give the child up for adoption, you must be notified. Your signature on this form will also require you to pay child support. However, it is important that you realize that this form alone does not grant you any decision-making rights over your child, nor does it grant you the right to visit or spend time with your child. For that, you must file a Petition to Establish Paternity and take additional steps as detailed below.

Court Order

When the identity of the biological father is disputed, the man who believes he is the father may want to get a court order that legally establishes paternity. In these cases, a judge will hear evidence relating to the father’s identity. The judge may also order a DNA test to establish paternity. If a judge decides this issue in favor of the petitioning father, they will likely issue a simultaneous order establishing both child support and child timesharing (custody) rights.

Administrative Order

Parents can also establish paternity without going to court or addressing a judge. Through the child support program, the parents can agree to a DNA test. If the test reveals that the alleged father is the biological father of the child, an Administrative Order of Paternity will be issued. This order is sent to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, who then places the father’s name on the birth certificate.


Finally, if the parents get married after the child is born, they can “legitimize” the child. After the couple marries, Florida law presumes that the husband is the child’s father. However, suppose the father wants his name on the birth certificate as the child’s father. To accomplish this, the couple must submit their marriage certificate, an Acknowledgement of Paternity Form, and an Affirmation of Common Child Born in Florida form to the Office of Vital Statistics. Through this process, the child becomes “legitimated.”

Family Help Center Is Here for You

Protecting your rights is not always easy or simple. Here at Family Help Center, we know how

important your child is to you.

When family issues arise, it can seem like your world has been rocked to the core. We are here to help you through those difficulties. Whether you are married and seeking a divorce,

questioning how to establish child support or custody, or trying to establish your parental rights, we’re happy to become your trusted advisor and advocate.

This article is a service of Family Help Center. We ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about your family. That's why we offer a free limited consultation, during which we will work with you to analyze the best strategy for your case. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a consultation and finding out how we can help you reduce conflict for your family.

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