In Florida, a child born to a man and woman who are married is conclusively believed to be the biological child of the man. Unfortunately, children who are born to women who are not married may not have a clear idea of the identity of their father. Without a determination of paternity, such children may live in poverty with their mother because the unknown father cannot be ordered to pay child support. In order to close this gap in the family welfare net, the state has established judicial procedures for determining the identity of a child’s father.

Some fathers of children born out of wedlock voluntarily acknowledge that they are the biological father, and the two parents often agree on child support and related issues. When a man believed to be a child’s biological father refuses to admit paternity, a court action is required to resolve the issue. An action to determine paternity can be started in the county where the plaintiff or the defendant resides. Most paternity cases are started by mothers who want the father to pay child support. The complaint in a paternity case must allege facts sufficient to show that the defendant is the biological father of the child in question. As with all civil judicial proceedings, a copy of the petition must be served on the defendant. The defendant must file a written answer, and the court may issue an order preventing the defendant from leaving the jurisdiction until the case is resolved.

The judicial proceeding for deciding the issue of paternity must be held in the judge’s chambers, and the judge may restrict attendance. The court is required to decide the issue of paternity and the ability of the parents to support the child. Document evidence that bears on the issue of paternity, such as hospital bills, childbirth and scientific testing, may be admitted without further foundation. The court may, on its own motion, require the mother, the child and alleged fathers to submit to “scientific tests that are generally acceptable within the scientific community to show a probability of paternity.” The results of such tests shall be filed with the court. If the tests show a 95 percent likelihood of paternity, the tests create a rebuttable presumption of fatherhood, and the court may enter summary judgment determining paternity. At the close of the judicial proceeding, the court will enter an order determining paternity and ordering one of the parties to pay child support to the other.