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All About Paternity Action in California

D'Cotledge Mediation
June 30, 2021

Having a known father has an immense impact on a child's life, both emotionally and from a socio-economical perspective. As courts hold the child's interest above any other actor in a paternity action proceeding, it's essential to know what to expect if you intend to request one and the rights and responsibilities of a child's father.

Paternity actions can be pretty complex and require the help of an experienced family law professional. In addition to the legal requirements and intricacies, paternity actions can also take an emotional toll on those filing for one.  

In this article, we will discuss the details of paternity actions in California, going through different scenarios and explaining the reasoning behind the legislation. 

What Is a Paternity Action?

 As it is called in California, a parentage action is a legal proceeding meant to officially establish a child's father. The court researches the case, evidence is presented, and several conditions need to be met before a man is legally recognized as the father of a child. 

As life itself can be extremely complicated for families, paternity cases can be tedious as well. In these delicate situations, having either an experienced family law professional or family law attorney can make the process much smoother, reducing the stress both parents and children feel in the process. 

Who Can File for a Paternity Action?

In the state of California, the only persons who are able to file a paternity action are the mother of the child, the alleged father, the child, or the state. In the vast majority of cases, this action is filed when a child is born out of wedlock. If the mother and the father were married (or registered in a domestic partnership) when the child was born, they automatically have parental rights. 

For married couples, parental rights and paternity can be re-established during divorce or in other circumstances wherein a parent can lose their rights. 

Here are some of the most common situations when someone will file a paternity action:

  • A father wants to be legally recognized as a parent and get visitation and custody rights;
  • A mother who wants to receive financial support from the child's father;
  • One of the parents (or both) wants the child to have a right to an inheritance from both of them;
  • The child wants their father to be officially recognized as a parent. 

Nowadays, paternity actions are primarily formal, accurate procedures, especially when a DNA test is performed. However, these cases are certainly emotionally charged, and it might be challenging to decide to file such an action. Let's see what the benefits or consequences of filing a parentage action are. 

Why File for a Paternity Action?

First and foremost, a paternity action should be filed in the best interest of the child. When having both parents recognized legally, a child can benefit from it on many different levels, both emotionally and developmentally, and from a financial, legal, and social perspective.

Here are the rights and privileges a child gets when having both parents officially recognized:

  • Receiving financial support from both parents;
  • Access to medical records and history;
  • Insurance coverage from either parent, better securing their healthcare;
  • Inheritance from both parents;
  • Having both parents' names on the birth certificate;
  • The ability to receive social security or veteran's benefits;
  • In some cases, getting another country's citizenship, residence, and so on. 

As you can see, having the father recognized legally is vital in the children's lives, even when paternity is not something both parents want or agree with. Both parents – once officially recognized legally have rights and responsibilities. The state could require an unwilling man to undergo a paternity test if the mother or child presents enough evidence to support the action. 

Ways of Establishing Parent-Child Relationships

Here are the main ways in which the parent-child relationship is established. 

1. Child Conceived and Born During Marriage

The surest way to get parental rights is to be married or be registered in a domestic partnership when the child is born. Then, both parents will automatically be granted parental rights and will share the responsibilities as well. In these cases, filing a paternity action is unnecessary, but specific situations might require it. 

The following circumstances apply to children who are born out of wedlock: 

2. Voluntary Declaration of Paternity

 For most unmarried couples having a baby, paternity is declared at the hospital where the child is born, where the father signs a voluntary declaration of paternity. Both parents must sign this certificate after being informed of the rights they revoke and their obligations when signing the paternity declaration. 

A declaration of paternity could be revoked, but it has to be done within 60 days of the child's birth. There can be exceptions to the time requirement, which is usually investigated by Child Support Services.

3. Paternity Genetic Testing

Genetic - or DNA - testing has completely changed the way paternity actions take place. In the past, such cases could be messy and emotional. The proof was often based on witness accounts or unreliable evidence like physical resemblance or claim of impotence, infertility, etc. 

With the help of science, paternity can be established with near-perfect accuracy by testing a saliva swab. Courts, as well as one of the parents, can request a DNA paternity test where said action is warranted.

4. Parentage by Estoppel

This scenario can happen when a non-biological father can prove that he has provided a home for the child, financial support, treated the child as if it were his own, etc. Then, the court can give the father legal parental rights, but usually, the case goes to trial before this type of decision is made. 

If the biological father is also filing a paternity action, hiring a competent and experienced family lawyer is highly recommended. 

Rights and Responsibilities of a Father in California

Before you consider going through with a paternity action, you need to understand what being a legal parent fully involves, both in terms of rights and responsibilities. 

Here are the most basic ones:

  • Custody and visitation rights, according to the court's orders. Suppose either the mother or the father tries to prevent the other parent from seeing the child under the agreed visitation and custody sharing arrangements. In that case, that parent's rights can be limited.
  • Parental decision-making power: both parents should be involved in major decisions regarding the child's health, education, or general development.
  • Paying child support may be required of either parent depending upon custody share percentages, the income of both parents, and other factors used to determine the support amount. Failing to do so goes against the court orders and has legal consequences. 
  • When sharing custody, both parents have an obligation to pay half of the child's education, healthcare, and childcare costs. 

As you can see, there are plenty of obligations that come with being a legal parent of a child, and failing to provide the needed care will have legal consequences. Sharing custody means both parents are involved in taking care of the child, and an agreement must be reached regarding the visitation schedule. 

How to File a Paternity Action

If you need to file a paternity action, it is highly recommended that you work with a family law professional experienced in this practice area. If you have a low income, you might qualify for free legal assistance. If you want to work with a particular firm or lawyer, you can hire them for part of the action or consultations during the case.

You can read free guides on legal matters on our website, and you can contact us for more information on your particular situation. 

Need Help Filing a Paternity Action in California?

Have you decided to file a paternity action in California and need someone to help and guide you through this process? Then it's best to get in touch with an experienced family law professional who understands the law and will work for your best interest. 

We at D'COTLEDGE MEDIATION are passionate about family law and have many years of experience under our belt regarding divorces, custody cases, paternity actions, and other family law matters. We aim to reach the best possible outcome for the family as a whole. 

Don't hesitate to contact us regarding your paternity action. 

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