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In the state of California, establishing precisely who a child’s father is may be legally necessary to obtain child support from the father, for the father to obtain visitation privileges, or to acquire a parental health history for the child’s medical needs. When a child is born during a marriage, the law in California will simply presume that the mother’s husband is actually the father, and when a man lives with a child and a mother in the manner of a family, and the man has demonstrated and made a commitment to the child, the man is presumed by California law to be the child’s father even if he is not the actual biological parent.

Apart from these circumstances, the paternity of a child may have to be legally established through a paternity action, which is initiated at the request of the mother or father. In southern California, whether you are a father trying to establish your legal paternal rights or a mother seeking to obtain child support, you can retain the legal advice of Zech Law and take advantage of the many years of experience.

How is paternity defined?

Paternity is the legal determination that one particular person is the father of a child. When a married woman has a child, paternity action is usually not needed. However, when an unmarried woman gives birth to a child in the state of California, a paternity action may be needed to determine who has legal rights to visitation, child custody, or child support. Once a determination of paternity is legally established, a child has the right to support from both parents, medical and life insurance coverage, and inheritance protection.

What is a voluntary declaration of paternity?

When a child is born to an unwed mother, the simplest way to establish paternity in California is when the child’s parents agree to sign a “Voluntary Declaration of Paternity” (VDP). When an unmarried woman gives birth, the healthcare providers must give her (and the presumed father if he is present) information about the VDP form. By signing it at the time of birth, the mother and father are acknowledging they are the parents of the child and that the man is in fact the child’s legal father. The father then has parental rights and also has parental responsibilities to the child. If either parent is under the age of 18 when signing the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity, the declaration only becomes effective sixty days after the parent turns 18.

Under California law, an unwed mother automatically has legal custody of her child upon birth, and no legal action whatsoever is required to assert her parental and custodial rights. She is solely responsible for providing for her child and for making all of the decisions about the child’s living arrangements, healthcare needs, and education. Barring any court order, the mother alone may determine what contact, if any, the father has with the child. This means the child custody, visitation schedule, and relationship between father and child is completely in the unwed mother’s hands unless court orders say differently.

However, unless paternity is established, an unwed mother has no legal right to child support from the father. A paternity action may be required to establish paternity and thus to compel the father to assume his financial duties, rights, and legal responsibilities to support the child. Under California law, the persons or agencies who may ask the court for a paternity order are the child’s mother; the man who believes he is the father or who has been identified as the father; the child support agency providing services to the mother; or an adoption agency who is providing a service to the mother.

When is genetic testing required?

Genetic testing may be required when a mother requests child support, welfare, or other public benefits; a county superior court has the authority to order genetic testing for the mother, the alleged father, and the child. If an alleged father refuses to be genetically tested for paternity during this process, the courts in California generally assume that the noncooperation is evidence of the alleged father’s paternity.

Within a marriage, the law in California presumes that the husband is the father, but when there is any uncertainty, a paternity action can be initiated by any of the parties involved to settle the issue. Establishing paternity may be necessary to obtain child support, to be released legally from supporting a child who is not your own, to obtain visitation privileges, or to obtain a parental health history for the medical needs of the child.

We help you make the right decisions

Establishing paternity is a situation that can be highly emotionally charged, so in any paternity action, be sure that you choose to work alongside an experienced Orange County paternity lawyer who routinely handles paternity actions and issues in the state of California. Experience is vital to a lawyer’s success in family law. Unlike other areas of family law such as legal separation, property division, or spousal support, paternity disputes are intricate and complex. Advances in technology (including artificial insemination) as well as changes in the law (such as same-sex parenting) are making paternity cases more complicated now than ever before, here at Zech Law we stay abreast of new developments to provide our clients with sound, up-to-the minute legal advice.