Establishing Paternity In California: What’s My First Step?


To establish California paternity is to determine who is the legal and biological father of a child. That can be determined by either the parents or the courts. The child’s legal father is responsible for supporting his child, and by doing so has the right to seek having the child in his life. Custody and visitation are decided once paternity has been legally established.

The obvious reasons for establishing paternity are obtaining financial support and so both parents of a child have the right to custody and being a part of the child’s life. There are additional advantages for the child that may not be immediately apparent.

  • Legal documentation identifying both parents
  • Having the names of both parents on the child’s birth certificate
  • Access to family medical records and history
  • Health and life insurance coverage from both parents
  • The right to inherit from either parent
  • The right to receive social security and veteran’s benefits, if available
  • The father can sign documents on behalf of the child, such as releases and permission forms

How California Paternity Is Established When A Couple Is Married

When the parents of a child were married at the time of the baby’s birth, the court assumes the husband is the father of the child, unless the parentage is contested in the first 2 years. When a man and a woman are married, any children born during that time are assumed by the court to belong to the husband.

If a man who is not her husband impregnates a married woman, he does have rights to establish paternity. He can ask for a paternity test, but he only has 2 years to contest his parentage.

In some cases, the court will favor a stable marriage over a biological father’s link. For a man to father a child with a married woman, he runs the risk of not being a part of his child’s life.

If at some point the husband begins to question whether the child is his or not, there can be an opportunity for the father of the child to ask for a paternity test regardless of the age of the child.

When the parents of a child were married at the time of the baby’s birth, the court assumes the husband is the father of the child, unless the parentage is contested in the first 2 years.

When A Couple Is Not Married

Paternity may be a complicated issue when the parents of a child are unmarried, depending on the circumstances. If a man has been living with a child in a family-like situation and has shown responsible actions and commitment, he is also assumed to be the father.

If that is not the case, a paternity test will need to be filed for the court to recognize his parentage and give court orders for support, custody and/or visitation.

Regardless of the marital state and living situation of the alleged father, a man in a variety of circumstances may wish to request a paternity test to be sure he is the parent or to avoid being hit with a surprise later in his life.

The biological father of a child has rights and responsibilities to the child no matter his relationship to the mother.

How to Establish California Paternity When The Man And Woman Agree On Parentage

You can establish paternity in California quickly by signing a “Voluntary Declaration of Paternity” form. It has to be signed by both parents to be valid. This form concludes that each parent acknowledges they are the parents and that the man is the biological father.

This can be signed at the hospital or later. You obtain this form either in the hospital or through the courts if you sign it later.

It is entirely voluntary. If a birth certificate has already been issued, a new one can be issued for a fee with the father’s name on it.

At the point of signing, the father can be added to the birth certificate. His name will not be added if he doesn’t sign the form, unless the couple is married. Once he signs, he then will have visitation, legal and physical custody rights, as well as the financial responsibilities that go along with those rights.

This action precludes the man from saying he is not the father later. It is the same as a court order that officially establishes parentage. If you are unsure of anything, you may wish to consult with a trusted Torrance attorney before signing anything.

When you sign this declaration, you give up the rights to the legal process of establishing paternity. This would include:

  • A trial in court to decide parentage
  • DNA testing
  • Notice of any parentage hearing
  • The opportunity to present your case to the court
  • An attorney to represent you

Establishing Paternity Through Court

Either parent can begin a case to establish parentage.

Going through court is the longer and more arduous way to establish paternity. A paternity order may be submitted through a California court by the following people with legal standing:

  • The child’s mother or mother of the unborn child
  • The man who believes he is the father to the child or the unborn child
  • An adoption agency
  • A child support agency who believes there is a neglectful situation
  • The child who is aged 12 or older

A paternity order can be submitted through Child Support Services but that is a much longer process than when you hire a professional attorney. Many people don’t want to wait when it comes to establishing paternity.

If the alleged father refuses to cooperate, the judge may consider his noncooperation as evidence of paternity.

Paternity is decided so the court can order:

  • Child support
  • Health insurance for the child
  • Physical and legal custody of the child (where the child lives and what part of the decision-making process each parent gets)
  • Visitation
  • 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

This is a situation which requires an attorney to guide you in the process. Mothers who seek to establish paternity of an uncooperative alleged father will be better off consulting an attorney.

Men may also choose legal assistance when they believe they are the father of a child but are facing resistance from the child’s mother or someone else in the child’s life. The legal system’s requirements are complex. A father is more likely to get an improved outcome by enlisting the help of a Torrance attorney.

The court will not automatically order DNA testing to establish paternity just because an action has been filed.

A paternity order can be submitted through Child Support Services but that is a much longer process than when you hire a professional attorney.

The Process For Determining Parentage In California

Contact a local attorney. The process for determining California paternity is complex. You can eliminate a lot of hassle by contacting an attorney as your first step.

You will be filing a Petition. The Respondent will be served with a Summons and a copy of the Petition. The Summons lets the alleged father know they need to respond to the filing.

As the complaining party you will need to legally establish facts for the paternity action.

These include statements of:

  • A citation of the California paternity statute
  • Establishing court’s residency (statement on where the alleged father lives and where the mother lives in order to determine which court has jurisdiction).
  • The child’s full name and date of birth
  • Relationship between each party and the child
  • Whether the mother was married at the time of birth and to whom
  • Status of any pending visitation or custody actions relating the child in question

The court orders a Pretrial Hearing. An evaluation of the situation will be done, and it will be determined whether a trial will be necessary. A recommendation will be made either that the trial will go forward, the matter will result in a compromise, or it will be dismissed.

The court requires genetic testing. This will be the case if one of the decisions of the court is not accepted by one of the parties. The county superior court has the authority to order genetic testing on everyone involved: the alleged father, the mother, and the child.

If the final recommendation is refused by either the mother or alleged father, the case will go to trial.

A paternity case is best approached as soon as possible after a baby is born. This is to the benefit of the parents, and particularly the child. Cases take some time, depending on individual circumstances. There are stages involved, such as establishing paternity, then custody and visitation orders are addressed, and of course financial issues.

It is important to contact us to resolve your paternity case, so we can guide you to the best resolution for your case, no matter how complicated. Call the Law Offices of Bruce A. Mandel at 424-250-9130 or contact us online today.

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