How to Establish Paternity in Florida
Here is a step-by-step how-to guide on how to establish paternity in Florida, along with links to the standard forms that will allow you to do it all yourself. Establishing paternity is not complicated. However, you have to understand the process, follow certain steps, and fill out the right forms. You don’t NEED an attorney, but a good attorney can help expedite the process and give you peace of mind that things are being done properly.
Within 45 days of service on the Respondent, the following must be filed:
You must file the case with the Clerk of Court, in the County you have lived for the last 6 months.
If you do not have the money to file a Paternity action, you may apply to be considered “indigent.” The clerk will review the information and make a determination of your status. If you qualify, the State of Florida will waive the application fee and the mediation fee. – ONLINE FORM HERE
Once you have filled the documents, the court will docket this information and issue a case number and a judge. The clerk of court will then issue the summons. Once you have the summons, you must Serve the Respondent.
There are two ways to Serve the Respondent for a Paternity Action.
Answer: -ONLINE FORM HERE
After the Respondent has been served with the Summons and Petition to Determine Paternity and For Related Relief, the Respondent has 20 days to file an Answer. The Answer is a document telling the court and the Petitioner, what the Respondent agrees or disagrees to in the Petition.
Answer & Counter Petition: -ONLINE FORM HERE
A counter-petition should be used when you are requesting the court to award something in the paternity proceedings, such as child-support, or time-sharing.
For example, if you do not file a Counter-petition, and the Petitioner decides to drop the case, the court will close the case and child support and time-sharing will not be established. If in the same situation, the Respondent files the counter-petition, the court allows the Petitioner to drop her case, but your case remains open and the paternity proceedings continue. -ONLINE
Default (Respondent did not Answer)
If the Respondent has been served and after 20 days they have not filed an Answer, you may ask the court to file a default against the Respondent (Motion for Default). -ONLINE FORM HERE
The Clerk of Court will then issue a Default and you may ask the court to set your case for a Final Hearing. Once the court gives you a hearing date/time, you must file a Notice of Hearing. -ONLINE FORM HERE
Once filed, you must serve a copy of the Notice of Hearing on the Respondent. At the Final Hearing the Judge will review the Petition to Determine Paternity and For Related Relief and make a determination of the appropriate relief.
Within 45 days of service on the Respondent, both parties must file the following documents:
Now that both parties have provided Discovery, the next step is to schedule mediation for your paternity case.
In most counties, mediation is mandatory. Mediation is a way for both parties to come together to discuss their issues and concerns with a third party. The mediator is there to help find solutions to the problem. They are also there to assist in communicating with the other party. They are not there to provide legal advice or tell anyone they are right or wrong.
The goal of mediation is to work out a solution that both parties can agree and accept. It is beneficial to come to an agreement at mediation so you can decide what you want. If you go to Trial, the decision will be up to the judge to decide the outcome of the case.
You must attend mediation in Florida. The process of scheduling mediation is different depending on the county. Check out the forms below for a few of the Florida counties:
If you do not have the money for Mediation, apply to be considered “indigent.” The clerk will review the information and make a determination of your status. The State will pay for mediation if you qualify. -ONLINE FORM HERE
Mediation is a safe space to openly discuss the issues of the case. However, once mediation begins, if either party does not wish to continue with the mediation, they are free to stop the mediation. If that happens, the parties may request to have a final hearing and the judge will decide the outcome of the issues.
If you feel like the information provided in the Mandatory Disclosure is not enough, you may request additional information for the paternity case. There are many avenues for requesting information, the most common are the following:
Case Management Conference:
A case management conference is a conference in front of the judge with the two parties, to discuss the pending issues and concerns revolving around the case. The judge determines if the parties have complied with the discovery requests, if mediation is needed, or if all parties are set and ready for trial.
Pre-trial conference is similar to a case management conference. Depending on the county some do both or just the Pre-Trial Conference. Pre-trial is the last chance for either party to make any last-minute requests. It also allows the parties to inform the judge what the issues are in the case and what will be heard during trial.
Very small percentage of paternity family law cases will go to trial. If you are going to trial, you are one of the few. Before trial, the parties will agree to a list of stipulated facts. You will then present these facts to the judge and argue why he/she should rule in your favor. For example, the fact is the child has lived with both parents for their entire life. The question is whether one parent should not have the ability to live with the child? The presentation of the argument will help the judge determine if it is in the child’s best interest to live with both or only one parent.