Paternity is a very important legal issue when a couple separates who were unmarried at the time of their child’s birth, because it impacts questions of custody, visitation, and child support. An increasing number of people start families without the legal protections of marriage. In such cases, just putting a name on a birth certificate does not secure a father’s parental rights. Paternity must be legally established in order to exercise those rights, or to hold a parent responsible for a child’s well being and support. Whenever a dispute arises as to who is the father of a child, establishing paternity is critical. While DNA testing has made it easier to determine that question, the legal issues surrounding those results have become increasingly complex. At Rallo Law Firm, our experienced family law attorneys can help mothers and fathers protect and enforce their parental rights as well as furthering the well-being of the child involved.
What is Paternity?
Paternity is the process of establishing who the legal father of a child is. A critical question is whether the parents were married at the time of the child’s birth:
- Married parents: Paternity is typically not in dispute for children born during a marriage. If the parents were married when the child was born, the law usually considers the husband to be the father. As of January 1, 2005, California law assumes that domestic partners are the parents if they were registered as domestic partners at the time a child is born. If a father, who was married to a child’s mother at the time of birth, questions whether he is the real father he only has until the child reaches two years of age to establish paternity. Afterwards he is obligated to support the child until age 18.
- Unmarried parents: Parents who are not married at the time of their child’s birth can sign a
- Voluntary Declaration of Paternity, which establishes them as the legal parents of the child. If the declaration was not signed and there is a dispute about parentage, a paternity action must be filed and the court can order genetic testing.
How is Parentage Determined in California?
There are three ways for a person to establish the parentage of a child in California (if the parents were unmarried at the time of birth):
- Voluntary Declaration of Paternity: As mentioned above, when both unmarried parents voluntarily sign this document, it establishes them as the legal parents. A judge can issue orders for custody, visitation, and child support after this document is filed with the court.
- Action by Child Support Agency: A local county child support office, an agency of the California Department of Child Support Services, can bring an action on a parent’s behalf to establish paternity.
- Action by a parent individually: Under California’s paternity laws, an individual may file a Complaint to Establish Parental Relations. This may occur under a variety of circumstances (for example, when registered domestic partners split up, when there is a dispute over who the father is, when a father may not realize that a child was born to him, when there is a dispute between unmarried parents over custody, visitation and child support, etc.).
What Does the Paternity Suit Establish?
Under California law, any man who is said to be the father of a child is entitled to a DNA blood or saliva test to prove fatherhood. He is also entitled to legal counsel in such a proceeding before fatherhood can be determined. Once paternity is established, claims can be filed to address issues of custody, financial support, visitation, and other rights and obligations. Paternity also gives the child various rights, including child support, access to medical records, government benefits, etc.
California Paternity Attorney
If you are involved in a dispute concerning fatherhood of a child, or a dispute to establish legal rights such as custody, visitation, and child support because you were unmarried at the time of the child’s birth, it is essential that you retain experienced legal representation. At Rallo Law Firm, our skilled paternity attorneys will work to protect your rights in this sometimes complex area of family law.