Aug. 2, 2018

The Florida Supreme Court Expands Rights of Biological Parents

Connor Perkins knew he was the father. He was there when his girlfriend Treneka Simmonds gave birth to their child in February 2013. He took the child to doctor’s appointments, enrolled the child in daycare, voluntarily paid child support and was referred to as “daddy” by the child. Perkins claimed that he was not aware that the mother was in an intact marriage, which resulted in him being denied parental rights with the child by the Broward Circuit Court.

When Perkins sought to establish his paternal rights with the child, Judge Arthur Birken found that the facts strongly favored him having some involvement in the child’s life. However, Judge Birken expressed that he was restrained from ruling in favor of Perkins because Florida law precluded a biological parent from seeking to establish paternity when the husband and wife both objected. “Perhaps there needs to be some movement in the law. However, it needs to come from a higher court or from the Legislature,” Judge Birken ruled. That movement in the law has now occurred.

On June 28, the Florida Supreme Court handed down its decision in Simmonds v. Perkins(No. SC17-1963) clarifying a conflict of law that was present among Florida’s District Courts of Appeal. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that a biological father could seek to establish his paternity, even where the biological mother and her lawful husband objected.

Dating back to early common law, it has been well established that when a child is born to a married couple, even if the husband is not the child’s biological father, the husband is presumed to be the father. This longstanding presumption of legitimacy has been one of the strongest presumptions existing under the common law. This cloak of legitimacy was based on the child’s best interest.

In it’s decision, the Supreme Court sided with the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s decision in Perkins v. Simmonds, 227 So.3d 646 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017), and overturned prior rulings of First District and the Third District holding that a biological father does have standing to rebut the common law “presumption of legitimacy” when he has “manifested a substantial and continuing concern” for the welfare of the child and sets forth a “clear and compelling reason based primarily on the child’s best interests.”

What does this mean for parents in the future? It means that if a biological parent wishes to seek in a court of law the legal rights and responsibilities to a child, even in spite of the mother and her spouse’s objection, the biological parent can do so if they can establish by the burden of proof provided by the Supreme Court that such a result is in the best interests of the child. Parents seeking relief will have to demonstrate that that they have reasonably endeavored to participate in the child’s life, including efforts to contact the child and offering support for the child.

“This decision was a long time coming and Florida needs to keep moving forward to keep up with societal changes,” said lawyer Nancy A. Hass, who represented Perkins in the appeal.

She said to meet this burden, the parent “needs to demonstrate a full commitment to parenthood.” For individuals who find themselves in these circumstances and need guidance as to how to protect their rights to their children, it is important to discuss a course of action with an attorney experienced in these areas.

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The Florida Supreme Court Expands Rights of Biological Parents

 An op-ed by Tripp Scott's Douglas Reynolds and Henny Shomar. As published in the DBR.

Connor Perkins knew he was the father. He was there when his girlfriend Treneka Simmonds gave birth to their child in February 2013. He took the child to doctor’s appointments, enrolled the child in daycare, voluntarily paid child support and was referred to as “daddy” by the child. Perkins claimed that he was not aware that the mother was in an intact marriage, which resulted in him being denied parental rights with the child by the Broward Circuit Court.

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