Unmarried Fathers & Child Support in California

Are you an unmarried mother who is interested in getting the father of your child to pay child support? Or, are you being told that you’re the father of a child and now the child’s mother is talking about having you pay child support? Either way, you have every right to understand California’s laws in regard to child support and unmarried fathers, which we explain below.

In California and all states, the law automatically assumes that a woman’s husband is her child’s biological and legal father. But when a woman has a baby and she is not married, the child does not have a legal father until paternity is established. A man can be 100% certain that he is a child’s father but until paternity is established, the court cannot make any child custody or child support orders.

Establishing Paternity in California

To “establish paternity” is to determine who a child’s legal father is. Generally, paternity is established in one of two ways in California: 1) the mother and father voluntarily sign a Declaration of Paternity form shortly after the child’s birth at the hospital, or 2) through a court-ordered DNA test (genetic testing) after the child’s birth.

If the parents agree to voluntarily sign the Declaration of Paternity form, it has the same legal effect as a DNA test and no one has to go to court. However, no one can be forced to sign this form. If there is any doubt in the mother’s or father’s mind about who the father is, they should not sign the Declaration of Paternity form.

If a man is being told by a woman that he is the father of her child and he is not sure that he is the child’s father, he has every right to request a DNA test to find out for sure if he is the child’s father. If a father-child relationship is confirmed through DNA testing, then the family court can order him to pay child support. But until paternity is established, the “presumed father” has no obligation to pay child support.

Next: When Does Child Support End in California?

We hope this article helped answer your questions. If you need to file a paternity or child support action, contact Burch, Coulston, & Shepard to request a consultation.