If it is a wise child that knows its own father, the Florida Supreme Court just created a new paternity law last week to help children know their true fathers. The court settled whether a biological father is prohibited from establishing his parental rights to his child if the child was born to a married woman.

Not Your Father’s Paternity Law

Perkins is the biological father of his daughter. Perkins and the child’s mother, Simmonds, engaged in a three-year relationship. Unknown to Perkins, his girlfriend was already married to another man.

When Perkins – the biological father – wanted to assert his child custody rights over his daughter, Simmonds and her husband, Ferguson, objected. Ferguson – the legal father – asserted his status as the child’s legal father– by virtue of his marriage to Simmonds – to block Perkins’ rights over his daughter.

Some interesting facts about the case:

  • Perkins was at the hospital for the child’s birth. Ferguson was not.
  • Simmonds declined to have Ferguson’s name listed as on the birth certificate. Simmonds gave the child Perkins’s last name and raised the child with Perkins.
  • Perkins and Simmonds lived together with the child.
  • Perkins has taken the child to doctor’s visits and enrolled the child in day care. Perkins regularly and voluntarily paid child support to Simmonds for the child.
  • The child knows Perkins as “daddy.”

So what’s the problem?

The problem in this case is that after Perkins filed a petition to establish paternity Simmonds moved to dismiss it, saying Perkins can’t establish paternity because of the common law presumption of legitimacy. That presumption is one of the strongest in Florida law.

Florida Paternity Law

I’ve written about paternity issues before. Sadly, for Perkins, after an evidentiary hearing, the trial judge ruled that it was bound by precedent to dismiss his petition.

In Florida, a putative father had no right to seek to establish paternity of a child who was born into an intact marriage, when the married woman and her husband object.

Although the trial judge held an evidentiary hearing and found that the facts strongly indicate that allowing Perkins to have “some involvement in the child’s life” would be in the child’s best interests, the trial court ultimately concluded that it was constrained by Fourth District precedent to dismiss the petition as a matter of law.

The Father of All Custody Conflicts

There’s been a conflict among Florida courts over this issue. Florida law presumes that the husband of the biological mother of a child is the child’s legal father.

This presumption is one of the strongest rebuttable presumptions known to law and is based on the child’s interest in legitimacy and the public policy of protecting the welfare of the child.

In Florida, many courts have held that a biological father has no right to seek to establish paternity of a child who was born into an intact marriage when the married woman and her husband object.

Some courts in Florida have gone so far as to suggest that the presumption of legitimacy may never be rebutted. While others have held that the presumption of legitimacy may be rebutted in certain, rare circumstances.

Twinkle in One’s Father’s Eye: New Paternity Law

The Supreme Court resolved the conflict and determined that the presumption of legitimacy does not create an absolute bar to a biological father’s right to seek to establish his paternity when the biological father has “manifested a substantial and continuing concern” for the welfare of the child.

The presumption of legitimacy is overcome when there is a “clear and compelling reason based primarily on the child’s best interests.”

So, for Mr. Perkins, the presumption of legitimacy has been found to be rebuttable by a biological father. Evidence that the mother’s husband has abused, abandoned, or neglected the child – although relevant – is not required to establish that it would be in the child’s best interests to recognize the biological father as the legal father.

The Supreme Court opinion is available here.