Paternity: Biological Father of Child Born to Intact Marriage Has Extremely Limited Rights and a “Casual Interest in Fatherhood” Found Insufficient To Trigger Constitutional Protection

M.L. v. Department of Children and Families, 2017WL1718807 (Fla. 4th DCA)

The putative father filed a motion to intervene in a TPR proceeding where child was born into an existing marriage. Although the putative father was named on the child’s birth certificate and he was present at the shelter hearing, he waited 18 months to file a motion to intervene, after the Department already filed a TPR petition against the mother and her husband, the legal father. The putative father had not obtained DNA testing. The Fourth DCA held that putative father may seek to establish paternity, but to gain constitutional protection of parental rights, he must act quickly and demonstrate “a full commitment to the responsibilities of parenthood by coming forward to participate in raising his child.” Because the putative father’s “casual interest in fatherhood” was insufficient to trigger constitutional protection, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying his motion to intervene.

Practice Tip: In order to expedite permanency for children in the dependency system, it is incumbent upon all parties to address issues of paternity as early in the process as possible.