Legal issues related to establishing paternity or maternity are handled through parentage actions. Parentage actions are governed by the family courts and guided by California Family Code. With a parentage action, you are essentially asking the courts to recognize a child's parents legally. Parentage cases are also commonly referred to as paternity cases. While establishing a child's parentage may seem relatively straightforward, these cases can be quite complicated.
Part of why they can be so complicated is because parentage actions often accompany other family court issues, such as asserting parental rights or child support issues.
When a child is born and their parents are married, the child's parentage is assumed. Similarly, both parents are assumed to be legally responsible for the child if both parents are registered domestic partners. However, if a child's parents are not married when the mother becomes pregnant or when the child is born, the child is not automatically considered to have a legal father. In situations like these, the child's parentage will need to be legally established by the courts.
According to California courts, establishing parentage is necessary for:
- Establishing custody and visitation
- Ordering child support
- Same-sex parenting matters
Part of why establishing parentage is so important is that parents cannot enjoy their legal parental rights without being recognized as the child's legal parent. Additionally, without establishing parentage, someone cannot be held responsible by the courts for upholding their legally required duties as a parent (such as their duty to provide for their child financially).
There are several ways to establish parentage. A father may acknowledge their paternity by signing a voluntary declaration of parentage or paternity, or a parent may go through the process of adoption. The courts may also issue an order declaring parentage. In cases of contested paternity, the courts may require genetic testing.
When Is Genetic Testing Necessary?
Typically, genetic testing is necessary when a child's parentage is not clear. For example, if a father denies that they are the child's parent, the courts may order genetic testing to determine if they are the child's father. When this happens, the father, mother, and the child may all be required to undergo genetic testing to confirm parentage. Similarly, a father is entitled to request DNA testing to prove he is the biological father in contested paternity cases.
What Is Parentage by Estoppel?
There are some cases where the courts will determine someone is legally a child's parent, even if they are not biologically related. This is called parentage by estoppel and is a type of presumed parentage applied to situations where a parent has always treated and openly acts as if the child in question is their own. Parentage by estoppel affects both fathers and same-sex parents.
How Establishing Parentage Affects Children
There are many important reasons for establishing legal parentage, but the primary one is that it is beneficial to the child. In California, parents are legally required to support their children. However, a parent cannot be held lawfully responsible unless their parentage is established with the courts. When both of a child's parents are legally recognized, the child can enjoy greater stability and support that they otherwise would not have had access to.
Establishing parentage benefits a child by increasing the child's access to important resources, such as:
- Financial support
- Health insurance
- Life insurance
- Social security benefits
- Veteran's benefits
- Rightful inheritance
Additionally, establishing parentage also provides the child with important information beyond simply knowing who their parents are. For example, when a child's paternity is established, the child will be able to access more of their family medical history. Furthermore, once parentage is established, the courts can order custody and visitation, giving the child legally protected, meaningful time with their parent.
Asserting Your Parental Rights
Parentage actions can also be used to help non-custodial parents assert their parental rights. In some cases, you can work to regain custody of your child or gain visitation rights. Alternatively, parentage actions may be used to revoke a parent's parental rights. Parental rights cases can be incredibly complicated, and the courts take them very seriously. If you are dealing with a parental rights issue, you must work with a knowledgeable, experienced attorney.