When a child is born to a married couple, California law automatically establishes both spouses as the child’s parents. However, while nonmarital births peaked in the late 2000s, four out of every ten children are still born to unmarried women.* Additionally, nonmarital births are increasingly likely to occur in cohabiting unions. Yet, even when born to a cohabiting (but unmarried) couple, a child’s parentage is not automatically presumed—he or she will not automatically receive the same benefits that a married couple’s child will receive. As a result, it is very important that unwed parents legally establish their child’s parentage.
Establishing parentage is important for the parents and the child because it entitles all parties to a host of legal rights and privileges: child support, legal identification documents, both parents’ names on the child’s birth certificate, access to family medical records and history, health and life insurance coverage, the right to inherit, and the right to receive social security and veteran’s benefits. Additionally, once parentage is established, a court can make orders concerning the above listed rights and privileges and concerning child custody, visitation, name changes, and expense reimbursement.
The parentage of a child born to an unmarried couple can be established by either 1) a voluntary signing of a Declaration of Paternity, or 2) a court order. First, a Declaration of Paternity can be signed by both parents once the child is born. The form can be signed at the hospital or at a later date, but to become effective, it must be filed with the California Department of Child Support Services Paternity Opportunity Program. If signed and filed properly, a declaration form has the same effect as a court order.
Second, if a parent refuses to sign the declaration, an individual, with the help of a family law attorney or through a local child support agency, can go to court to establish parentage. In California, section 7611 of the Family Code provides several rebuttable presumptions of natural parent status: 1) the presumed parent and the child’s natural mother are married when the child is born, or the child is born within 300 days after the termination of a marriage, 2) before the child’s birth, the presumed parent and the child’s natural mother attempted to marry each other, 3) after the child’s birth, the presumed parent and the child’s natural mother have married or attempted to marry each other, and with consent, the presumed parent is named as the child’s parent on the birth certificate or is obligated to support the child under a written promise or court order, and 4) the presumed parent receives the child into his or her home and openly holds the child out as his or her natural child. If a court finds that one these presumptions applies, it will issue an order establishing parentage.
Additionally, section 7551 of the California Family Code provides that in civil proceedings where paternity is relevant, the court may order (of its own initiative or upon suggestion by an involved party) that the mother, child, and alleged father submit to genetic tests. As provided by section 7555 of the California Family Code, if the court finds that the ordered genetic testing establishes paternity to a certain degree verified by experts, there is rebuttable presumption of paternity, and the court may proceed with support and custody orders.
For more information about establishing a child’s parentage in California, especially if you are interested in pursuing child support and/or custody of your child, please contact the experienced family law attorneys at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri.
Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.