What You Need to Know About Paternity

Paternity means to establish who the legal father of a child is. If parents are legally married when their child is born, the law presumes the woman’s husband is the child’s biological and legal father, but when the parents are not married when the child is born, paternity must be established before the father has any legal rights or obligations toward his child.

When a child is born to unmarried parents in California, paternity is established by one of two ways: One, the parents can voluntarily sign a Declaration of Paternity at the hospital after the child is born, or two, if there is question about paternity, a court-ordered DNA test can be performed to confirm the father-child genetic relationship.

Once paternity is confirmed through a DNA test, then orders for child custody and support can be made. But until paternity is established through a Declaration of Paternity or a court-ordered DNA test, the biological father has zero rights and responsibilities toward his child. Additionally, the court cannot issue a support order until paternity is established.

Can a Father Dispute Paternity Later?

Sometimes, an unwed father believes a child is his and he signs the Declaration of Paternity form at the hospital within 24 or 48 hours of the child’s birth, but later something makes him question his paternity – suddenly he’s not 100% sure he is the biological father. We must warn such fathers that once paternity is established, it can be very difficult, if not impossible to reverse. It can be hard to undo, even if a DNA test confirms otherwise.

If you sign the Declaration of Paternity form and you later question that you’re the child’s father, you have only 60 days from the date you signed the form to cancel the Declaration of Paternity. If you choose to challenge it in court, you must challenge it within two years of the child’s birth. Otherwise, you can be on the hook for child support until the child turns 18, or graduates high school, whichever occurs later.

If you need legal representation with a paternity, child support, or child custody matter, contact our Orange County family law firm today.