If a child is born out of wedlock, or the mother’s husband is not the father; establishing paternity can have a significant impact on custody, visitation rights, and child support obligations. While many parents choose to establish paternity voluntarily, it is sometimes necessary to obtain a court order.
There are “presumed parents” under California law when:
- A man is a child’s other parent when he was married to the child’s mother when the child was conceived or born
- He attempted to marry the mother (even if the marriage was not valid) and the child was conceived or born during the marriage
- He married the mother after the birth and agreed whether to have his name on the birth certificate or to support the child
- A presumption arises under Family Code 7611(d) where a man is the father of a child if he receives the child into his home and openly holds the child out as his own
The Benefits of Filing a Paternity Action
If you are an unmarried mother or father, there are some clear benefits to establishing paternity. However, it is important to remember that once it has been established there will be a corresponding obligation to pay child support. At the same time, custody and visitation rights allow a noncustodial parent to be a part of the child’s life.
Because paternity determination may have far reaching implications, for instance respecting inheritance, the law aims to place limits on who, how, and when can bring an action to court to get such parenthood declaration.
In California, the law only allows specific persons to bring a lawsuit to establish (or to question) a parent-child relationship. Where a presumption in favor of fatherhood exists, for example, when the child was born during marriage, the action for declaration of fatherhood can be initiated:
- By the child itself,
- By an adoption agency, or
- By a prospective adoptive parent at any time.
- Child Support Services can also initiate a paternity suit.
Generally, if an individual or a public institution furnished expenses relating to pregnancy, confinement, education, support, or funeral of the child, they can also seek to enforce parental obligations directly in the proceeding for the determination of the paternity. The law gives the power to sue to interested parties, which can also include parties to an assisted reproduction agreement.
When it comes to the timing, a paternity lawsuit can be filed even before the child is born. The man declared as father in an official judgment has only two years to ask such judgment be vacated.
What gives California courts the jurisdiction to decide paternity suits is the act of conception, whether natural or artificial, within the territory of the state. The courts have other bases for jurisdiction, but this particular rationale underscores the intimate nature of information discussed during paternity proceedings. The proceedings may be held in closed court.
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