Paternity Cases, Florida Law, and What Happens When You Are Not the (Biological) Father

One of the more “buzzworthy” and headline-grabbing family law cases of recent days came from Texas, where a court in that state recently ordered a man to pay $65,000 in child support for a 16-year-old girl despite unrefuted scientific proof (in the form of DNA testing) that the girl was not the man’s biological daughter. The case touches upon many issues related to the methods for establishing legal paternity and the role DNA testing should play in that process. A South Florida case from last year touched upon many of those same issues. That case, involving two men, a mother, and her young daughter, shed some light on Florida paternity procedures.

The Palm Beach County mother, A.D.A., was involved romantically with a man, M.J.L., until late 2009. When those two broke up, A.D.A. was “in trouble with the law” and also was in the late stages of a pregnancy. Shortly before Christmas, A.D.A. had a baby daughter. Also present at the hospital was M.J.L. and a new man in the mother’s life, D.M.F.

The daughter’s birth certificate listed no father. M.J.L. filed a paternity action early in 2010 but voluntarily dismissed his case in the following summer. Shortly after that dismissal, in late July 2010, A.D.A. and D.M.F. filed an Acknowledgement of Paternity, stating that D.M.F. was the natural father. In reality, D.M.F. couldn’t have been the biological father, since he did not enter the mother’s life until well after the March 2009 date when she conceived the child.

D.M.F. and the mother married a week later.

That marriage didn’t last; the couple separated in July 2011. The husband filed for divorce in October 2013. The ex-boyfriend re-entered the picture that November, re-filing his paternity action. A trial court judge eventually ordered DNA testing, and the results indicated a 99.9999% probability that the ex-boyfriend was the father. The mother and the ex-boyfriend (who was no longer her “ex-boyfriend” but instead her “boyfriend” again) jointly filed an agreed parenting plan.

The trial court judge threw out the paternity test results, concluding that paternity testing was not in the best interest of the child. The appeals court, however, reversed that decision. The trial court had followed the procedural rules set up in Chapter 742 of the Florida Statutes, which covers acknowledgements of paternity. The problem was, though, that the acknowledgment of paternity in this case, filed by the husband and the mother, was fraudulent.

The mother and the husband acknowledged that the husband was the natural father of the child, even though they both knew that he could not possibly have been the child’s biological father because he was not in a sexual relationship with the mother when she conceived the daughter. Section 742.091 establishes something called a “reputed father.” That section says that if a mother and a reputed father (who is the man “generally or widely believed or considered to be the biological father of a particular child”) subsequently marry each other, that man becomes the legal father. If, however, you know you aren’t the biological father (as the husband knew in this case), you can’t be a reputed father for the purposes of using Section 742.091.

The proper recourse for this husband, the appeals court explained, was to follow the rules for pursuing an adoption as spelled out in Chapter 63 of the Florida Statutes, rather than to make a false statement in an Acknowledgement of Paternity.

In the end of the opinion, the appeals court noted the case’s difficult facts. The husband was an involved parent, who appeared to love the child and have her best interests at heart. He was supportive, including paying for the girl’s Montessori school. The biological father had between 15 and 20 criminal arrests and was incarcerated during much of this case. Nevertheless, the law is clear that a biological father doesn’t lose his parental rights just because he has a criminal record and another of the mother’s partners is supportive and involved.

Whether your case involves a parent seeking to prove paternity, or an attempt to demonstrate that a particular man is not the father, paternity cases should be taken very seriously and addressed promptly. As the recent Texas case highlights, a failure to act in a timely manner can result in massive financial consequences. Regardless of the details of your paternity case, experienced Florida counsel can help you put together what you need in court. The South Florida paternity attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. have been helping people in paternity and other family law cases pursue justice for many years. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.

More blog posts:

What Happens in Florida if Paternity Has Been Established but You’re Doubting You Are the Father, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, Oct. 12, 2016

South Florida Father Wins Paternity Battle Regarding Child Whose Mother Was Married to Another Man, Fort Lauderdale Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 29, 2015