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Complying with the Florida Paternity Statute

The issue of paternity—the determination of whether a person is the legal father of a child—may at first seem simple. Florida paternity statutes allow paternity to be established in a number of ways, including by acknowledgment (when an unmarried mother and father sign a document admitting paternity), legitimation (when the child's parents marry), or by genetic testing.

Genetic tests, especially, have become easier and more effective in recent years. According to Nature, paternity can now be established by using DNA from extended family or even by testing saliva left on a cup. Tests are cheaper, and results come faster and are more accurate.

However, for all this increased simplicity, the law requires compliance with very specific procedural steps.

Florida Father Denied Genetic Testing

The 2011 case of Carnley v. Lynch emphasized the need for parents to carefully navigate Florida paternity law. In that case, the Florida Department of Revenue had issued an order requiring Mr. Lynch to provide child support for Ms. Carnley's child as "the father and a noncustodial parent." This order stated that paternity had already been established.

Mr. Lynch, however, disagreed with this assessment and filed a request for genetic testing, along with a letter that stated he was not the father and had not signed the child's birth certificate. Eventually, in mid-2010, a child support enforcement hearing officer took note of Mr. Lynch's request and ordered the parties to submit to testing. This was approved by the local court—and then appealed.

On appeal, the First District Court of Appeal of Florida reversed the decision by the hearing officer and lower court. Essentially, Mr. Lynch did not comply with the law's requirements and a genetic test could not be ordered.

Florida law states that a party to a family law proceeding is not entitled to an order requiring another to submit to genetic testing unless "(1) the proceedings place paternity 'in controversy' and (2) 'good cause' exists for the testing."

Here, the appellate court did agree that Mr. Lynch's letter was enough to put paternity "in controversy." However, he failed to show "good cause."

Because the original child support order labeled Mr. Lynch as the father, he was required to show good cause by triggering proceedings to "disestablish paternity," which could only be accomplished in one of two very specific ways. First, he could have alleged that there was some fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact. And second, he could have filed a petition in the trial court that included three required documents:

1) An affidavit describing "newly discovered evidence";

2) The results of a genetic test; and

3) An affidavit that describes compliance with any child support obligations.

Mr. Lynch did not even attempt to bring his request for testing under either method. And, as a result, he was not entitled to genetic testing.

An Attorney Can Help Navigate the Law

If you need assistance establishing paternity or fighting its denial—or have any other family law-related inquiries—please contact the attorneys at Hager & Schwartz, P.A. in Miami for a consultation.

Categories: Family Law, Paternity