A paternity case determines the identity of a child’s legal parents. If the parents are married when a child is born, there is usually no question about parentage. The law assumes that a husband is the father and the wife is the mother, so paternity is automatically established in most cases.
But for unmarried parents, parentage of their children needs to be established legally before a court will make child custody, visitation, or support orders. Once a person is established as the father or mother of a child, he or she will have all the rights and obligations of a parent. They will be able to request custody and visitation orders from the court. He or she will also be responsible for paying child support and will have to pay half of the uninsured health-care costs for the children and half of the child-care costs that result from the custodial parent getting or having a job or going to school. If a person is established as a legal parent of a child, that person MUST financially support the child. It is a crime for a legal parent to fail to support his or her child.
There are three main ways to establish parentage when the child’s parents are not married: 1) Signing a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity; 2) Genetic Testing; and 3) Presumed Parent
- A Voluntary Declaration of Paternity is a California governmental form that, when signed by both parents, establishes them as the legal parents of the child. The form must be signed voluntarily. No one can force either the father or the mother to sign the form. The purpose of the Declaration of Paternity is to officially and legally establish who the father of the child is when the mother and father are not married to each other. A properly signed Declaration of Paternity has the same effect as a court order establishing paternity for the child, without anyone having to go to court. A Voluntary Declaration of Paternity can be set aside within two years under certain circumstances.
- A person can request a genetic (DNA) test to find out for sure if he or she is the parent of a child under certain circumstances. DNA is the biological material that determines a person’s physical characteristics. It is found in almost all of the cells in the body, and each person’s DNA is unique. Some of a person’s DNA coding is inherited from the mother. Some of the DNA coding is inherited from the father. Therefore, by comparing the DNA coding of a mother, father, and child, their biological relationship can be established. While not controlling, a biological connection is a strong factor for determining paternity under the law.
- The law will presume a person is a child’s other parent under the following circumstances unless determined otherwise by a court. A man will be presumed to be the child’s other parent if: 1) He was married to the child’s mother when the child was conceived or born; 2) He attempted to marry the mother (even if the marriage was not valid) and the child was conceived or born during the marriage; 3) He married the mother after the birth and agreed either to have his name on the birth certificate or to support the child; or 4) He welcomed the child into his home and openly acted as if the child was his own. This concept is called parentage by estoppel and means that the court can find that a man is a child’s legal father, even if he is not the biological father, if he has always treated the child as his own.