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.

How Is Paternity Established

How Is Paternity Established and Why Does It Matter?

Establishing paternity—the father of a child—is increasingly necessary in today’s non-traditional family structures. People who have not been touched by this issue might be surprised to know that it is not simply a matter of DNA testing.


When a child is born to a married couple who reside together, the law presumes that the husband is the father. More and more often, however, children are born to couples who are not married. When this happens, a determination must be made as to the father of the child.


Medical care providers are required to provide information to the mother of the child regarding a “voluntary declaration of paternity.” If the mother and the father sign a voluntary declaration, the father will be listed on the birth certificate and will have paternal rights and responsibilities under state law. There is no test required to prove that the father is biologically related to the child.


When no one steps forward to acknowledge paternity, a superior court can make the determination. This typically happens when the biological father does not know of his parentage or wants to avoid involvement with the child. A paternity action can be initiated in court by 1) the child’s mother, 2) the man claiming or denying paternity, 3) a child support agency, or 4) an adoption agency. In this situation, DNA testing is normally used to resolve the conflict.


The reasons for establishing paternity are several. Foremost is the need for financial support for the child. It is also in the State of California’s interest to see that both parents support their child. Otherwise, public assistance may be necessary to support the child. Appropriately, and as noted above, the state child support agency can therefore bring an action to establish paternity.


Another reason for establishing the identity of the father is for health care purposes. Eligibility for health insurance is an important benefit for children. A court can order health care coverage as appropriate once paternity is established. Genetic health information is also important for the child’s wellbeing throughout his life. Many health care decisions are impacted by genetic predispositions inherited from one’s parents.


The emotional and social development of a child can also be positively affected by a child having a father in his life. Even though the father may not live in the home, appropriate visitation arrangements can be made that will support the parent and child relationship. Even if the relationship is minimal, children are better off emotionally and socially knowing the identity of their fathers.


The attorneys at The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in family law, including paternity matters. Make the call today to learn how our attorneys can help you proceed through the divorce process while protecting your rights or those of loved ones: (415) 298-8314.

Basic Paternity Rules in California

Father CustodyEstablishing Paternity

When a woman gives birth to a child, California law automatically recognizes that woman as the mother of the child. If the woman is married and living with her spouse, then her husband is recognized as the child’s father. However, if the two parties are not married, then the law only recognizes the father if paternity is legally established. Establishing paternity grants the child all the benefits and rights of children born to parents that are married, and can be very important for the child if the parents become separated, divorced, or were never married in the first place, especially if the father is interested in retaining proper custody and visitation rights. Also, establishing paternity allows the child to be legally entitled to child support during the father’s life and possibly inheritance or other death benefit upon the father’s death. Establishing paternity benefits the child in a number of ways.  Children are entitled to have legal proof of both parents’ identities, family medical records in case of an inherited condition, life or medical insurance if the parents have it, and financial support from both parents. At the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger, we will actively pursue the best strategy to achieve the best possible outcome for you and your child in legal family matters.  Judy L. Burger is known for her tenacious representation of clients in high conflict cases in and around the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento areas.  If you are a parent facing a divorce, custody dispute, or other family law issue, call us today to learn more about how we can help.  Call (415)293-8314 in the San Francisco Bay area or (916)631-1935 in the Sacramento area, or contact us online via our confidential inquiry form.

Notifying the Other Birth Parent of an Adoption

iStock_girl w sunflowerAdopting a stepchild or domestic partner’s child is a fairly common milestone for many families.  Adoption has the effect of uniting a family while legally terminating the parental rights of a birth parent who has little or no involvement in the child’s life. In many cases, the uninvolved birth parent will consent to an adoption. It is also possible to carry out an adoption without his or her consent. Allowing an adoption without a parent’s consent is a serious matter, so a court will not proceed until the uninvolved birth parent has had a chance to present his or her objections. If possible, one way to speed up an adoption case is to get the uninvolved birth parent’s written consent to the adoption. If written consent is not possible, then the prospective adoptive parent must locate the uninvolved birth parent and provide a last known address to the court. If the uninvolved birth parent cannot be located, the prospective adoptive parent must convince the court that he or she made a good faith effort to find the uninvolved parent and notify him or her of the adoption proceedings. A stepparent or domestic partner adoption should be a joyful time for your family. Talk to an attorney experienced in California family law to help make sure the process goes as smoothly as possible, without any unexpected surprises along the way. Judy L. Burger is an experienced California family law attorney serving the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento area.  If your family is considering an adoption, call us today to learn more about how we can help.  Call (415)293-8314 in the San Francisco Bay area or (916)631-1935 in the Sacramento area, or contact us online via our confidential inquiry form.