In California, the word, “paternity” is used interchangeably with “parentage” or “parental relationship.” Establishing paternity means that either the parents of a child or the courts have determined who a child’s father is. There are some instances where the law assumes the identity of the father, such as:
- when the child is born during a marriage, the mother’s husband is presumed to be the child’s father, and
- when a man has been living with the child and mother in a family-like manner, and the man has demonstrated a commitment to the child, the man is presumed to be the child’s father, even if he is not the actual biological father.
Absent these two circumstances, paternity will need to be established.
In parentage cases, also called “paternity cases,” the court makes orders that say who the child’s legal parents are.
If parents are married when a child is born, there is usually no question about parentage. The law assumes that the married persons are the child’s legal parents, so parentage is automatically established in most cases. However, for unmarried parents, parentage of their children needs to be established legally.
In some cases, the law may also determine that a child has more than two legal parents. After January 1, 2005, if parents are registered domestic partners when a child is born, the law assumes that the domestic partners are the child’s parents.
What It Means to Establish Parentage
Establishing parentage means obtaining a court order or signing an official declaration of parentage or paternity that says who the legal parents of a child are. For example, if the parents of a child were not married when the mother became pregnant or when the child was born, the child does not have a legal father until parentage is established. So, even if a father can prove he is the biological father of a child, if he was never married to the mother, he does not legally have any rights or responsibilities for the child. For that, parentage must be established legally.
Establishing parentage is necessary before custody, visitation, or child support will be ordered by a court. You can ask the judge for child support or custody and visitation orders as part of a case that establishes the child’s parentage.
“If a father does not admit that he is the parent, the court may order the alleged father, mother, and child to submit to genetic testing.”
Starting the Case
If a mom uses the state child support services, the agency has the authority to require the mother, child and alleged father to submit to genetic tests to determine the biological father. Genetic testing is required when the mother also requests child support or in connection with a mother’s request for welfare or other public benefits.
If the case is brought to court, the county superior court has the authority to order genetic testing on the mother, alleged father and child. If the alleged father refuses to cooperate, the judge may consider the dad’s noncooperation as evidence of paternity.
In addition, the court can order:
- child support
- health insurance for the child
- physical and legal custody of the child, meaning where the child will live and whether one or both parents will be able to make decisions for the child
- visitation, which means when the non-custodial parent will see the child
- payment of court costs, meaning the fees the court charges to start the case
- payment of the genetic testing, and
- payment of either party’s reasonable attorney’s fees.
Benefits of Establishing the Paternity
- Medical information: When you know who the real father of a child is, you can access their valuable medical history. This knowledge can help the child know about and prepare for possible genetic problems that might come from their father’s side.
- Parenting rights: The biological father often has an easier time accessing the right to parent and raise their child. Both child and father can value this opportunity to be involved in each other’s lives.
- Legal and financial reasons: A child who has a known father might also benefit legally and financially from this knowledge. For example, their father might pay child support or serve as a guardian. Some parents do not want to be legally or financially responsible for a child that’s not theirs biologically.
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This is intended as general advice and should not be interpreted as legal advice. Each situation is unique and requires specific analysis of relevant contracts, facts and legal obligations.