If you are familiar with daytime talk TV shows, or maybe just pop culture in general, perhaps you’ve witnessed the scene. The baritone-voiced talk show host, with all the appropriate dramatic pauses, tells the man sitting on stage the results of a DNA paternity test. “You are… not the father,” the host exclaims. The man dances. The woman cries. YouTube users compile the scenarios for “Best of” and “Top 5” videos. These issues also occur outside daytime TV, and they are very serious matters. Many real lives may be dramatically altered by the outcomes of these procedures. So, what happens if you think you may need to disestablish legal paternity of a child in Florida? A recent case decided by the First District Court of Appeal, in resolving the case of one man, highlights some options available under this state’s law.
The recent case involved a child born to S.R. In October 2014, S.R. and C.S. appeared in court in a paternity hearing. Until that point, S.R. had consistently stated that C.S. was the biological father of the child. The trial court found C.S. to be the legal and biological father, and it ordered him to pay child support. C.S. did not, at that time, argue that he was not the father and did not appeal the trial court’s decision, since he assumed that he was the father based upon the mother’s declarations.
That changed shortly after the order of paternity, when S.R. then began making “contrary statements” regarding the child’s true biological paternity. Based on this, C.S. had a DNA test completed, and the results revealed a 0.0 percent chance that he was the father. C.S. then went to court to set aside the paternity judgment. He argued that the judgment was the result of fraud and misrepresentation, since the mother had lied to him and to the court about the child’s paternity throughout the process. The trial court rejected this, concluding that C.S. had not brought forward enough evidence to set a aside a final judgment under Florida’s rules.
A few weeks after this defeat, C.S. tried a different approach. He filed a petition to disestablish paternity, which is a specific legal proceeding authorized by Section 742.18 of the Florida Statutes. In this case, C.S. again presented his evidence of first doubting his relationship to the child shortly after the final judgment, and then completing the DNA test that showed he was not the father. There was one important difference from his previous case, however. In the first case, he argued that the judgment was the result of fraud by the mother. In this one, he argued that the judgment should be thrown out due to newly discovered evidence.
Both of these methods of contesting a paternity judgment are potentially viable. The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure allow litigants to seek relief from a judgment, decree, or court order in general. This action can succeed if you prove fraud, excusable neglect, mistakes, or newly discovered evidence, to name a few. A petition to disestablish paternity requires you to prove that you have newly discovered evidence as proven by a valid DNA test. Be aware, though, that to use Section 742.18 procedures, you have to be current on your child support payments.
In C.S.’s case, the trial court ruled against him, granting the mother’s request for summary judgment in her favor. C.S. appealed that ruling, and the appeals court ruled in his favor. The trial court should not have entered a summary judgment because C.S.’s evidence was sufficient to establish “genuine issues of material fact.” The trial court had mistakenly ruled that it was forced to throw out the father’s disestablishment petition because it had ruled against him on the previous motion to set aside a judgment. This was an erroneous decision because the cases involved two different sets of claims. Even though the court had already decided that the mother did not commit fraud (as was determined in the first case), that did not count as a determination on the issue of newly discovered evidence (which was the crux of the second action).
Paternity cases can have substantial consequences for you and your family in many regards. If you’re facing a paternity action, and you genuinely believe that the child is not yours, you should retain legal counsel to help protect your rights. The South Florida paternity attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have many years of experience helping people facing situations like yours. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.
More blog posts:
South Florida Father Wins Paternity Battle Regarding Child Whose Mother Was Married to Another Man, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 29, 2015
Disestabishing Paternity Requires Strict Statutory Compliance, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 28, 2010