When a child is born, there’s no question as to who the legal and biological mother of the child is. The woman who gives birth has parental rights unless she willingly gives them up, as in the case of adoption. Legal paternity, especially in the case of unmarried parents, isn’t always assumed – presenting extra challenges when custody issues ensue.
Establishing paternity offers protections for all parties involved, especially the child. If a child was born into a family dynamic where paternity isn’t assumed, it’s crucially important to take steps to establish legal parentage.
What California Law Says About Parentage And Paternity
According to California Parentage Law, if a couple is married or in a domestic partnership at the time a child is born, paternity is assumed. A couple can file for a Declaration of Domestic Partnership if they meet the criteria outlined in California Family Code section 297.
Legally, except in the case of adoption, paternity can only be recognized if the father’s name appears on the birth certificate. Typically, if the father is present at the birth and during the hospital stay, he will add his name and sign the birth certificate at that time. If he is either unable or chooses not to add his name to the birth certificate, he will be required to file a Declaration of Paternity to later have his name added.
There is an exception to California parenting laws called Presumptive Parenthood Status. Presumptive status applies to situations in which the parents were legally married for at least 300 days before the child’s birth, but it’s also a little more complicated than this.
The area of this law that complicates paternity is that a person can be legally recognized as a presumptive parent in certain situations where they have been acting in the manner of a parent, such as housing, caring for the needs and investing time in raising the child as their own.
For instance, say a woman gives birth to a child, and legal paternity isn’t established on behalf of the biological father. She could then raise the child with another man, and that man could be considered the father under Presumptive Parenthood Status. It’s easy to see how this scenario could quickly escalate into a major legal issue should the biological father decide he wants custodial rights to the child.
Why Establishing Paternity Is So Important
If paternity hasn’t been legally established, it can present issues for both sides concerning custody, financial support and building a healthy relationship with the child. Without legal paternity, the biological father basically has no rights until he establishes that he is, in fact, the father. Likewise, a mother would need to establish paternity if she wished to pursue support from the father.
The birth of a child is a joyous experience and one that most parents don’t want to taint with the idea of a legal custody battle down the road. If not for their own protection, parents should make establishing paternity a priority for the sake of the child.
Legal paternity benefits the child in several ways:
- The child can be listed as a dependent on the father’s medical coverage
- Helps the child develop a sense of identity
- In the event the father dies, the child is entitled to social security benefits, wrongful death compensation and any inheritance
- The child has another legal representative in the case of an emergency and the mother is not present
Unfortunately, the consequences of not establishing paternity early on are often not realized until an issue arises – such as a father who finds himself in an uphill battle for visitations with his child. The simple act of the father signing the birth certificate at the time it is filed can prevent an issue like this from occurring.
Work With An Experienced Family Law Attorney To Help You Establish Paternity Today
Establishing legal parenthood is an essential first step in protecting yourself in a custody case. No matter what side of the issue you’re on, establishing paternity is necessary to protect the child and secure their best possible future. In cases like these, parents often need to put themselves aside for the best interest of the child.
If you’re involved in a child custody case and need to speak to a family law attorney about paternity, attorney Bruce A. Mandel is here to help establish paternity, negotiate and file documents, and help you with your legal rights. Contact attorney Bruce A. Mandel today at 424-250-9130. You can also learn more about family law by connecting with us on Facebook.