As anyone who lives there knows, California is a very progressive state. Family law is no exception, as lawmakers continually try to keep up with the needs of nontraditional families. The focus of this article is on paternity law in California. If you have questions about paternity after reading this article, you should contact an experienced family law attorney for help.
In California, the word, “paternity” is used interchangeably with “parentage” or “parental relationship.” Establishing paternity means that either the parents of a child or the courts have determined who a child's father is. There are some instances where the law assumes the identity of the father, such as:
Absent these two circumstances, paternity will need to be established.
The simplest way to establish paternity is voluntarily. This is where a child's father and mother agree to sign a "Voluntary Declaration of Paternity." When an unmarried woman gives birth in a hospital or other medical setting, the medical care providers must give her (and the alleged father if he's present) information on the voluntary declaration of paternity or “VDP” form. By signing the form, the mother and father are acknowledging they are the parents of the child and that the father is the child's legal father. His name can then be added to the child's birth certificate and he has parental rights and responsibilities to the child.
If either parent is under 18 when he or she signs the VDP, the declaration will not become effective until 60 days after the underage parent turns 18 years old.
The second way to establish paternity is through a paternity action in court. Under California law, any of the following persons or agencies may ask the court for an order on paternity:
If the child is under 12, he or she may be considered a party in the case. If the child is over 12 years of age, he or she will be considered a party in the case. In either instance, the court will name a representative for the child, usually called a “guardian ad litem.” The guardian ad litem will appear in court on the child’s behalf and represent what is in the child’s best interest.
If a mom uses the state child support services, the agency has the authority to require the mother, child and alleged father to submit to genetic tests to determine the biological father. Genetic testing is required when the mother also requests child support or in connection with a mother's request for welfare or other public benefits.
If the case is brought to court, the county superior court has the authority to order genetic testing on the mother, alleged father and child. If the alleged father refuses to cooperate, the judge may consider the dad’s noncooperation as evidence of paternity.
In addition, the court can order:
The obvious benefits for both mother and child are financial support and health insurance for the child. The child may also benefit from having a dad involved in his or her life. Additionally, a child may be eligible for other public benefits if the father is disabled or a veteran. The child would be an heir to the father’s estate as well.
Many men who may not be aware that they are fathers welcome the opportunity to raise a child. There are situations where the child’s mother may interfere with the father’s right to be a part of the child’s life. In California, when a bio-dad wants to support and care for his child, but the mom or a third party interferes with his efforts, the dad is called a “Kelsey S. father.” In that case, the father would have to assert his rights to raise the child by getting court orders.
The California Courts have an informative website to help those who want to go to court on their own. Go to www.courts.ca.gov/courts.htm. Click on the “self-help” link and from that link, click on “P” under the alphabetic index. The link leads to “Paternity/Parentage.” There is also a link for “Disputing Paternity.”
California Legal Services sponsors a self help website at www.lawhelpca.org. Click on the “Families and kids” link which leads to a library of self help resources.