A paternity action establishes a father’s parental relationship with a child, as well as awards legal responsibilities and parental rights to the father. While a father may seek to establish parentage to obtain custody and/or visitation rights over a child, a mother may file a paternity action to establish the father’s financial responsibility for a child.
In California, there are a couple of instances where the law assumes the identity of the father: (1) when the child is born during a marriage and (2) when a man has been living with the child and mother in a family-like manner while demonstrating a commitment to the child. Absent these two situations, paternity must be established.
The following are the common ways to establish paternity in California:
- Voluntary Declaration of Paternity – Paternity can be established when both parents sign a voluntary declaration of paternity (VDP), which often occurs at the hospital after the child is born. When an unmarried woman gives birth in a hospital or other medical facility, the medical care provider needs to provide her—and the alleged father, if present—information on the VDP. Once the form is signed, the mother and father acknowledge they are the legal parents of the child. However, in order to establish a custody, support, or visitation order, paternity action must be filed with the court. A VDP can also be signed at a public agency and filed with the Child Support Services Paternity Opportunity Program, which has the same effect as a court order.
- Child Support Agency – With the help of a local child support agency, paternity can also be established. While the Department of Child Support Services offers a free service that enables you to both establish paternity and obtain a child support order, it is a much slower process—six to eight months or more—compared to hiring a professional paid service, such as a legal document assistant to help file the paperwork quickly. Additionally, the child support agency can require the mother, child, and alleged father to submit to genetic tests to determine the biological father.
- Court Order – You can also go to court to establish paternity. The county superior court can also order genetic testing on the mother, child, and alleged father. If the alleged father fails to cooperate, the judge may consider his disobedience as evidence of paternity. Furthermore, the court can order physical and legal custody of the child, child support, visitation, payment of court costs, payment of genetic testing, and payment of either party’s attorney’s fees.
So when an unmarried woman gives birth to a child, legal action may be required to establish paternity and to compel the father to meet his legal duties and responsibilities. Whether you plan on seeking paternity through a child support agency or the court, having an experienced attorney on your side can make a substantial difference. Due to the complexities of paternity cases, a lawyer can guide you through the intricacies of the legal system and help you obtain the most favorable outcome possible.