Are Unwed Fathers Obligated to Pay Child Support in California?

In California, mothers and fathers are both expected to financially support their children regardless if they’re married to each other or not. Under California law, child support is paid until a child turns 18, or 19 if the child is still in high school full time, living at home, and cannot financially support themselves.

If a child is disabled and unable to live on their own once they become an adult, the family court can require that the non-custodial parent continues paying child support beyond the child’s 18th or 19th birthday.

But what if a father was never married to the child’s mother? Does he automatically have to pay child support, the same as a divorced father? In all states, including California, fathers have the responsibility to support their children; however, if the father was never married to the child’s mother, he has zero obligation to pay child support until paternity is established.

Paternity Establishment in California

If you’re sure or even not so sure that you’re the father of a baby or child and the mother says you are, you are not legally obligated to pay a penny of child support until paternity is established. Paternity can be established by both parents signing a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form (this is often done at the hospital after the child’s birth).

However, if there is any doubt that you’re the father, you should NOT sign this form. Instead, you should ask the court for a DNA test to confirm paternity. Once paternity is confirmed, the court can order you to pay child support, but you can also seek child custody or visitation.

Note: Once a child support order is issued, it’s important to keep up with your payments. If you fall behind for any reason, you can face all sorts of negative consequences, such as wage garnishment, driver’s license suspension, real estate liens, bank account seizures, etc. If you ever can’t afford your child support, pay what you can, and contact us immediately to request a downward modification with the court!

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