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How is paternity established in California?

On Behalf of | Jul 12, 2023 | Family Law

Having both parents as pillars to lean on for strength and guidance is pivotal in helping a child feel whole during their formative years. But in the wake of divorce, while California law equally upholds both parties’ parental rights, it also sets additional parameters for fathers who wish to establish legal ties with their child.

California courts interchangeably use the term “paternity” with “parentage.” The state’s parentage laws determine what it takes to be your child’s legal parent and why it matters. 

Establishing paternity

The state presumes parentage for cohabiting married couples with a child born and raised during the marriage. But for unmarried parents, mothers play the primary role, while it is necessary for fathers to establish paternity in either of the following ways:

  • Voluntary declaration: Both parents must sign a government form, which is known as the voluntary declaration of paternity. Both parties mutually signing this official document means they acknowledge the man’s parental rights and responsibilities as their child’s legal father, which also places his name on their child’s birth certificate. If either parent is underage, the declaration’s effectivity is 60 days after the minor parent turns 18.
  • Court action: Either the mother, the man who believes he is the child’s father, the adoption agency or child support services may file for a paternity court order. Especially in cases of dispute, the court can also order genetic testing.

Determining paternity is essential for court decisions on custody, child support and visitation, also known as parenting time. Established paternity also entitles a father to have a say and access to their child’s health care, inheritance and insurance policies. The child also stands to gain from the father’s veteran or Social Security benefits.

A father figure

The fight to be a child’s legal father is rarely straightforward, but must always be in the child’s best interests. As the case unravels, more disputes may come into the mix, like if an unmarried mother moves on to marry another man different from the child’s biological father, and both men intend to file or challenge a paternity claim. Whoever parent you may be, you urgently need legal counsel to guide you through the parentage maze and eventually lead you to a healthy relationship with your child.