When a married woman becomes pregnant, the law automatically assumes her husband is the child’s biological and legal father. But when a child is born to unmarried parents, paternity must be legally established before the father can have any rights and responsibilities toward his child.
What does “paternity” mean exactly? It means to officially establish a child’s legal father. Until paternity is established, the family courts cannot issue orders for child support, child custody, or visitation. In other words, even if a man is a child’s biological father, he has zero rights toward his child until paternity is officially established.
How is Paternity Established?
There are two ways to establish paternity in California. First, both the mother and father can voluntarily sign a Declaration of Paternity form at the hospital shortly after the child’s birth. Second, it can be established by court order after a DNA test confirms paternity.
“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. A legal parent also has the right to get custody or visitation rights related to the child,” according to the California Courts.
There are many benefits to establishing paternity, including but not limited to:
- The child can receive financial support from both parents.
- The child will know who their father is.
- The child may be entitled to an inheritance and Social Security benefits on their father’s work record.
- The child can gain access to their father’s family health history.
- The child can be entitled to health and life insurance from either parent.
Not all paternity cases are identical. Sometimes, a mother wants to establish paternity so she can collect child support. Or, the father may want to have a paternity test done so he can seek child custody or visitation.
A man may question if he’s a child’s biological father and he may want a paternity test so he doesn’t support a child for 18 years who isn’t his. Sometimes, a couple is in the middle of divorce proceedings and the woman’s husband doesn’t believe that he’s the child’s father, so he asks for a paternity test.
If you have any uncertainty over the paternity of a child, you should not sign the Declaration of Paternity form. Rather, you should contact our Orange County family law firm to discuss filing a paternity action with the court. Contact us today to learn more.