Contesting Parentage in California

Contesting Parentage in California

It goes without saying that being a parent comes with both rights and responsibilities. Nowhere is this more evident than in legal proceedings that relate to families. In the realm of family law, a child’s parents have the right to request custody and visitation. However, they also have the responsibility of supporting the child, sometimes by paying child support, uninsured healthcare costs, and child care costs.

When a child is born, the mother’s name is listed on the birth certificate. If the mother is married at the time of birth, her husband is presumed to be the father, and his name is also placed on the birth certificate. Likewise, if the mother was married at the time the child was conceived, that man is presumed to be the father and is listed on the certificate.

If the mother is not married, determining who the father is can be more complicated. A very common way of establishing paternity is through a voluntary Declaration of Paternity completed by the parents. Outside of a presumption or voluntary declaration, court proceedings are often used to determine the child’s father. You can read more about paternity at our earlier blog here.

But what happens when a man disputes that he is the father of the child? Indeed, much is at stake for everyone involved — the mother, the putative father, the child, and the state of California.

The California Family Code reaffirms that the state has a compelling interest in establishing child paternity and that both parents have a duty to support their children. This makes sense because parentage affects many rights:

  • child support;
  • child custody and visitation;
  • health insurance;
  • military benefits, survivors’ benefits, and Social Security benefits; and
  • inheritance rights.

When a parent does not support a child, the child suffers. However, the child’s family and the state are also often negatively affected.

The state child support agency can request that a court establish the paternity of a child. Others who may start a paternity suit include the mother, the child’s personal representative, and, of course, the father. A man has the legal right to request a genetic test to determine whether he is the biological father of a child.

Under California Family Code § 7575, if a man who signed a voluntary declaration of paternity is determined by genetic testing not to be the father, the court may still refuse to set aside the declaration. The court’s decision in this regard is focused on the best interest of the child.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in family law matters, including challenges to paternity. Contact us today to learn how our attorneys can help you in your case: (415) 293-8314.

What Does It Mean to Establish Paternity?

What Does It Mean to Establish Paternity
Most people know that establishing paternity relates to naming someone as a child’s legal parent. However, many people are less clear about why it is important to establish paternity, also known as parentage.

When a child’s mother is married at the time the child is conceived or born, the person to whom she is married is automatically presumed to be the other parent, unless the court finds otherwise based on evidence before it. This presumption also applies to certain couples in registered domestic partnerships, as well as to situations in which the second parent openly treated the child as his or her own.

However, if the mother is not married at the time the child is born, the child does not have a second legal parent. In these cases, California provides two simple ways to establish parentage: a formal declaration of paternity or a court order.

In either case, once someone is established as a child’s legal parent, he or she gains both rights and responsibilities relating to the child. Only after parentage is established may that parent exercise parental rights, such pursuing custody and visitation. Additionally, until parentage is established, a person cannot be held legally responsible to pay child support.

While custody, visitation, and child support are all important reasons to establish parentage, there are many others:

  • The child’s right to inherit from the parent;
  • The child’s right to certain benefits related to the parent, such as Social Security and veteran’s benefits;
  • The child’s ability to access family medical records and history;
  • The right to recover certain government-provided benefits on behalf of the child;
  • The presence of the person’s name as a parent on the child’s birth certificate; and
  • The child’s ability to recover as a health or life insurance beneficiary from the person.

In addition to these concrete benefits, California law recognizes that “knowing one’s father is important to a child’s development.”

Declaration of Paternity

The simplest way to establish parentage is through a declaration of paternity signed voluntarily by both parents. This is a state-created a form that has the same effect as a court order when it is filed with the California Department of Child Support Services. By law, birthing hospitals and prenatal clinics must provide a voluntary declaration of paternity to an unmarried mother. The declarations are also available for free “at all local child support agency offices, offices of local registrars of births and deaths, courts, and county welfare departments.”

A parent who signs a declaration of paternity waives several legal rights, such as the right to have a court decide the issue of paternity and the right to legal representation in paternity proceedings.

Court Order

A court order is the second way parentage may be established when a mother is unwed at conception or birth. Either parent may petition a court to establish parentage. For example, a mother may ask a court to enter an order establishing a biological father as her child’s legal father. After this is done, the mother can pursue child support from the father. Similarly, a biological father may ask a court to establish him as the father, after which he may pursue custody or visitation with the child.

Parentage is the basis for many rights and responsibilities under California law. If you are involved in a parentage dispute, you want an attorney with substantial experience in Northern California who will represent you aggressively. Please contact the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger at (415) 259-6636 to learn more.