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Establishing Legal Paternity

Paternity is Fatherhood

Every child deserves to have a legal father.  When you establish paternity, you identify the legal father of the child.  Paternity gives rights and benefits to the mother, the father and the child.

Some of the rights and benefits for the child are:

  • Information on family medical history
  • The child will know the identity of his or her father
  • The father’s name is on the birth certificate
  • Health or life insurance from either parent, if available
  • Support from both parents, like child support and medical support
  • Get Social Security or veteran’s benefits, military allowances and inheritances.

Paternity gives both parents the legal right to:

  • Get a child support order
  • Get a court order for visitation or custody
  • Have a say in legal decisions about the child

See our paternity brochure for more information.

Does Your Child Have a Legal Father?

  • A child born to parents that are married to each other has a legal father. Married parents and their child get all the rights and benefits of having a legal father.
  • A child does not have a legal father if the mother is not married when the child is born. Legal paternity has to be established for this child.

How Do I Establish Paternity for My Child?

In Florida, there are five ways to establish paternity:

  • Marriage:  The parents are married to each other when the child is born

    Marriage

    If a woman is married when her child is born, her husband is the legal father of the child. They do not need to do anything to establish paternity. This paper work will be completed in the hospital by their staff. This is true even if the mother does not list her husband’s name on the child’s birth certificate.

  • Acknowledgement of Paternity:  The unmarried couple signs a legal document in the hospital when the child is born, or later

    Acknowledgement of Paternity

    If the mother is not married when her child is born, the parents can establish legal paternity at birth or later by signing a form that says they are the parents of a child:

    • At birth -
      In the hospital when the child is born, the unmarried mother and the child’s father can fill out and sign the Paternity Acknowledgement form DH-511 before they leave the hospital. This is the quickest and easiest way to get paternity established when the mother is not married. The child has a legal father right from the start. Both parents must be there to fill out and sign the section in the presence of two witnesses or a notary public.
      • The man that signs the section is the legal father as soon as the form is complete.
      • The hospital sends the form to the Florida Office of Vital Statistics so they can record the birth. The legal father’s name is on the birth certificate when it is recorded.
    • Later -
      After the unmarried mother and child leave the hospital, the unwed mother and the child's father can fill out and sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form DH-432. (English) (Spanish) Print the form on legal sized paper.
      • Parents can also get this form from their local Health Department, the Florida Department of Health website, the Florida Office of Vital Statistics or the Department of Children and Families.
      • Both parents must fill out and sign the form in the presence of two witnesses or a notary public.
      • Parents mail the completed form to the Florida Office of Vital Statistics where the birth certificate is changed to add the legal father’s name.
    NOTE: These two methods (in-hospital Paternity Acknowledgment DH-511 or Acknowledgment of Paternity DH-432) cannot be used if the mother is married when the child is born.
  • Administrative Order Based on Genetic Testing:  Paternity is ordered if a genetic test proves fatherhood

    Administrative Order for Paternity

    We can help you establish paternity without going to court with an Administrative Order. The mother, the man believed to be the father and child must take a genetic test. If the test results prove that the man believed to be the father is the biological father, we issue an Administrative Order of Paternity and tell the Florida Office of Vital Statistics to add the father’s name to the child’s birth certificate. Many people prefer this method because:

    • There is no need to go to court
    • There is no cost for the genetic test
    • The order is based on genetic test results
    • The administrative order is just as legal as a court order
    • The genetic test is easy and very reliable
    • If possible, we can move quickly to get child support if the test results are positive
    • If the test results are positive, we can move quickly to get child support

    Not all cases can use this method. If you have a case with us, we will review it to see if this is the best method for your situation. For more information on how this method works, or to see how we handle getting child support in these cases, go to Administrative Support Procedure.

    Genetic Testing brochure – Explains how genetic (DNA) tests work, test results and how results are handled.

  • Court Order:  A judge orders paternity in court

    Court Order for Paternity

    A judge can establish paternity through a court order. We ask the court to hear the case and then a judge decides if paternity is established or not. In many cases until the paternity has been legally established the man is referred to as the “alleged father”. Based on the evidence, the judge may issue an order that says the man is the child’s father. A judge can also establish paternity in other kinds of court actions, such as divorce or dependency. In court cases:

    • The parties must appear for the court hearing as scheduled
    • The court may order a genetic test
    • One or both parties may be ordered to pay for the genetic test and other court costs
    • If the alleged father was served but does not show up for court, the judge may choose to “default” him and make him the legal father without him being there
    • If the mother and father agree to legal paternity before the actual day of the court hearing they can sign a consent order that is adopted by the court as a final order
  • Legitimation:  The mother and natural father get married to each other after the child is born and update the birth record through the Florida Office of Vital Statistics

    Legitimation

    If the mother is not married when the child is born, but later marries the child’s father, Florida law presumes the husband to be the child’s legal father. When this happens, the father’s name is not automatically added to the child’s birth certificate. To add the father’s name to their child’s birth certificate, the parents complete documentation with the Clerk of Court (when they apply for their marriage license). The Clerk of Court sends the documents to the Florida Office of Vital Statistics. The documents include:

    • A certified copy of the marriage certificate

      AND

    • A completed Acknowledgement of Paternity form DH-432, signed by both parents: (English) (Spanish) Print the form on legal sized paper.

      AND

    • A completed Affirmation of Common Child(ren) Born in Florida form DH-743A

Genetic Testing

A genetic test is a scientific test used to prove if a man is the child's father. It is also called a DNA test. Since DNA is present in every cell in your body, we do not use needles or need blood to do the test. Skin cells are collected from the inside cheek area of the mouth. Testing works this way:

  • The alleged father, the mother, and the child are scheduled for a genetic test appointment. (Alleged father means the man believed to be the father).
  • Everyone must show up for their appointment and bring picture identification. If the child does not have picture identification, we can use a birth certificate or Social Security card for identification. Identification is mandatory to make sure the test is being done on the correct person.
  • At the appointment, we take a picture of each person being tested. The picture is used to identify the person being tested and will be sent to the lab with the DNA sample.
  • The adults to be tested will rub the inside cheek area of their own mouth with a cotton swab to get a DNA sample that the lab will use for the genetic test. The adult who brings the child to the appointment will also rub the child's inside cheek area of the mouth with a cotton swab.
  • We seal and ship the collected samples with the photos we take to the genetic testing laboratory.
  • The laboratory compares the cells of the mother, the alleged father, and the child to get a test result.
  • The laboratory sends the test results to us about 3 weeks after the last cell sample is taken. For example: The mother and child gave a cell sample on March 4. The alleged father gave a cell sample on March 15. We will get the test results from the laboratory about 3 weeks after March 15.
  • Once we get the genetic test results from the laboratory we will send the results to the mother and the alleged father in the mail. We do not give test results (positive or negative) to anyone over the phone.

We contract with independent accredited laboratories to test genetic samples and provide test results. We do not accept genetic test results from any other laboratories.

Genetic testing is always a part of the Administrative Order method. Sometimes a judge will order genetic testing in court. Regardless of the method, if the mother or the alleged father has any doubt about who the real father is, we recommend a genetic test.

See our genetic testing brochure for more information.