Except where adoption is involved, many people think of genetic relationships as the most important thing that links parents and children. In Florida’s family law system, that is not always the case. It is entirely possible for a man to claim paternity and to be named as the child’s legal father without DNA testing. If a man agrees to be named as the father on a child’s birth certificate, most of the time, no one questions it. In fact, Florida courts usually only order DNA paternity tests when no legal father has been named, and the court needs to decide who is responsible for paying child support for a child whose mother has demonstrated financial need. The rest of the time, biology is not the sole determining factor. The recent Flynn v. McCraney decision is just one example of when a Florida court ruled not to award legal paternity to the child’s biological father.
The Mother’s Husband is the Child’s Father by Default
If the mother is married at the time of the child’s birth, her husband becomes the legal father by default. Why is this the case in an age when DNA paternity testing is so accurate and so inexpensive? Part of the reason goes back to the days before DNA testing was available. Before the 1990s, alleging that the father of a married woman’s child was someone other than her husband required nothing short of character assassination, and it was almost impossible to prove. Even now that matters of biological paternity are so easy to determine through DNA testing, Florida courts still prefer to keep families intact. If a child has been raised by two parents since birth, the courts favor arrangements where those two adults remain the primary caregivers until the child reaches adulthood. (This is the logic behind the trend toward timesharing in Florida’s parenting plans.) Continue reading