Paternity is a critical yet often overlooked step in family law cases involving children. Before child support or custody can be established, the child's parentage usually must be determined. Sometimes a legal presumption is enough to show paternity, but in many cases court action must be taken. Whether you are the party seeking to establish paternity, or a paternity claim has been made against you, MacKay & Martin, LLP, can help you understand and assert your legal rights.
What Is Paternity?
Paternity – which is often referred to as parentage – refers to the state of being someone's parent. In California family law cases, it carries significant legal consequences for both parents involved.
There are cases in which paternity is presumed. For example, if both parties are married when a child is born, there is a presumption that the husband is the father of the child. If the parents are registered domestic partners, there is a presumption that they are the child's parents when the child is born.
Some cases of presumed paternity are less typical than others. One such case is “parentage by estoppel.” This exists where the father welcomes the child into his home and acts as if the child is his. Even if he is not the biological father, the courts can recognize this individual as the legal father since he always treated the child as his own. Also, there are cases in which the father tried to marry the mother, the marriage was not valid under state law, but the child was conceived or born during the “marriage.” Here, too, the court may presume the man is the father.
Disputed paternity cases typically arise in situations where the parents are not married or are not registered domestic partners when the child is born.
What Does It Mean To Establish Paternity?
To establish paternity, in cases where it is not presumed, the party requesting it must either obtain a court order or a Declaration of Paternity. The child legally does not have a father until parentage is established. It is not enough for the father to show that he is the biological parent; paternity is a function of law.
Why Is It Necessary?
Without paternity, the law does not recognize the biological father as a parent of the child. This has consequences for both the mother and father. The father will not have rights to custody or visitation until paternity is established. Meanwhile, a court will not set child support for the mother until paternity is resolved. Paternity may also affect the following:
- The ability of a court to legally change the child's name
- Inheritance rights of the child
- Social Security, veterans', and other benefits the child may have through his or her parents
- The ability of the child to sue for wrongful death of a parent
- Health and life insurance coverage from a parent
- Access to family history, including medical records
- Having both parents included on the birth certificate
How Is It Established?
If the parents agree on the question of paternity, they can sign a Declaration of Paternity. This form, which has to be voluntarily signed by both parents, establishes the father's parentage. It has the same effect as a court order, without the need for either parent to go before a judge.
On the other hand, the father may refuse to sign the Declaration and dispute paternity. If this happens, the court may order the parents to submit to genetic testing, whereby their DNA is compared to that of the child. A father who is unsure about his paternity can also request a DNA test to settle the question.
There is usually no charge if the Department of Child Support Services performs the testing. However, the court will not accept private genetic testing as evidence in a case unless it has already ordered the procedure.
What Happens After?
Once paternity is established, the legal parents will have all the rights and responsibilities that other parents have. Either parent can then request the court to decide custody and to issue parenting orders allowing them to visit the child. The parents can then have access to the child's medical, educational, and other records. Child support can also be determined. The legal parent may have to pay a share of uninsured medical costs or daycare costs as part of this obligation.
There are some cases in which California courts will declare that more than two individuals should be considered the child's parents. This is usually where it would harm the child unless additional parents were recognized.
How Can MacKay & Martin, LLP, Help In My Paternity Case?
The putative father (the individual alleged to be, or who claims to be, the father) may not be totally sure he is the biological father. Or, the mother may assert he is the father while he denies it. Regardless, we can represent the putative father and answer any questions about legal rights and responsibilities.
On the other hand, you may be the mother and have concerns about receiving child support from a father denying parentage. Perhaps you are not even sure where the putative father is, or he is not willing to submit to genetic testing. Our firm can help you locate the father and take the steps needed to order genetic testing.
It is also possible to challenge presumed paternity, for example, when the parents are married at the time of the child's birth. These are usually more complicated cases that require the assistance of an experienced California family lawyer.
Contact Our Los Angeles Paternity Attorney
Since paternity carries a number of rights and responsibilities, it's essential to consult a knowledgeable Los Angeles paternity attorney. Let the team at McKay & Martin, LLP, help. Get started on your case by giving us a call today.