How is paternity established in California?

In order to access their rights as parents, unwed fathers must first take action to legally establish paternity for their children.

When children in California are born out of wedlock, there is no presumption as to their parentage, the way there is when they are born to married parents. In such cases, the children do not have legal fathers and fathers do not have any legal parental rights for their kids. Therefore, it is important for unwed fathers to act to legally establish paternity. In California, this may be accomplished voluntarily, through action by a local child support agency or by court order.

Legally naming a man as a child's father carries significance for fathers and their children. This action allows unwed fathers to seek child custody or visitation, just as men who were married to the mothers of their children can do. Additionally, it affords them the right to be involved in making decisions relating to their kids and their upbringing. For children, establishing parentage allows them the opportunity to know both of their parents, and both sides of their families. Further, it entitles them to receive benefits from their mothers and fathers, such as health insurance or Social Security Disability.

Voluntarily acknowledging paternity

The easiest way to establish parentage for a child is through a voluntary acknowledgement. If both parents are in agreement regarding their child's parentage, they may complete and sign a declaration of paternity form. This form is available at the hospital when the child is born, or parent can obtain it later from the local court, registrar or child support agency. In order to be valid, the declaration of paternity form must be signed by both parents at the hospital or one of the agencies or in the presence of a notary public. It must then be filed with the California Department of Child Support Services.

Initiating a child support case

Another option for establishing paternity is to initiate a case with the local child support agency or to seek welfare for the child. Before support can be ordered or welfare approved, parentage must be determined. If there is a question as to the identity of a child's father or one parent denies the parentage, the child support agency may order genetic testing.

Taking legal action

When parents do not agree on the parentage of a child, one or the other may choose to take legal action. In such cases, it falls to the court to determine whether a man is the legal father of the child in question. To make its determination, the court will hear from both sides and examine any pertinent evidence. Additionally, the court may order DNA testing. Should courts decide in favor of establishing paternity, the orders issued entitle men to the same parental rights afforded to married mothers and fathers.

Stepping up to be there for their children may not be an easy process for some unwed fathers in California. Therefore, those who have had children out of wedlock may benefit from seeking legal assistance. A lawyer may help them understand their options, rights and what to expect from the legal process.