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California family law: establishing legal fatherhood by paternity

California paternity law is complex, but important for the child and all concerned.

Every child is born into its own unique family situation, but sometimes the identity of the father is not legally connected with the child at birth. In such a circumstance, many reasons exist why it may be in the child’s best interest for paternity or legal fatherhood to be established.

Presumed fatherhood

In California, if the pregnancy begins during a marriage, the father is automatically presumed to be the legal father if the couple lives together and he is not medically unable to have children. (The presumption also applies in a few other similar situations that are rarer.) This presumption can be overcome by blood testing or other clear and convincing evidence.

Positive reasons for paternity declaration

But outside a marriage, it can become more complex. California statute contains a legislative declaration that there is a compelling public interest in determining paternity for all kids for several listed reasons:

  • Child support
  • Social security benefits through the father
  • Health insurance through the father
  • Survivors’ benefits
  • Military benefits
  • Inheritance rights
  • Family medical history
  • Child development
  • And more

An easy answer when unmarried parents are in agreement is to execute together an official state form called a declaration of paternity to establish legal fatherhood.

Paternity suits in California state courts

Several interested parties have the right to file a court proceeding to establish (or challenge) paternity. A mother may file a paternity action to establish legal fatherhood so that the child becomes eligible for child support from that father. She may also hope to establish a relationship between the child and the father, or secure legal rights related to fatherhood for the child.

A man who believes he is the father of a child may file a paternity action in order to ask for rights to custody or visitation so as to develop a relationship with the child, to provide financial support to the child, as well as to give the child the legal rights related to having a father.

Seek legal counsel

A paternity proceeding is a very complicated matter legally and procedurally and the representation of an experienced California family lawyer can be important. It can be difficult to meet deadlines, file required paperwork, give proper notice to all interested parties, understand rights to DNA testing and so on without knowledgeable legal counsel.

Similarly, it can also be bewildering to understand how to respond to a paternity suit for a man who believes he is not the father. Not responding properly or on time may waive certain rights, so quick consultation with legal counsel is important.

This article only touches on California paternity basics in a traditional parent-child relationship. The laws involving paternity and parentage become more complex in situations involving adoption, sperm or egg donors, assisted reproduction, surrogacy, same-sex parents, legal recognition of more than two parents, and similarly complicated realities of modern family life. In these more nontraditional situations, the advice and counsel of a skilled attorney is especially crucial.