Paternity Actions

 

In parentage cases, also called "paternity cases," the court makes orders that say who the child's legal parents are.

If parents are married when a child is born, there is usually no question about parentage. The law assumes that the married persons are the chlid's legal parents, so parentage is automatically established in most cases.

But for unmarried parents, parentage of their children needs to be established legally.

In some cases, the law may also determine that a child has more than 2 legal parents.


 

What It Means to Establish Parentage


Establishing parentage means obtaining a court order or signing an official Declaration of Paternity that says who the legal parents of a child are. For example, if the parents of a child were not married when the mother became pregnant or when the child was born, the child does not have a legal father until parentage is established. So even if a father can prove he is the biological father of a child, if he was never married to the mother, he does not legally have any rights or responsibilities for the child. For that, parentage must be established legally.

Establishing parentage is necessary before custody, visitation, or child support will be ordered by a court. You can ask the judge for child support or custody and visitation orders as part of a case that establishes the child’s parentage.

  • If a father does not admit that he is the parent, the court may order the alleged father, mother, and child to submit to genetic testing.

Establishing parentage is also necessary for same-sex parenting situations if the parents were not married when the mother became pregnant or when the child was born. For example, if two unmarried women agree to co-parent a child, and the woman who did not give birth to the child wants to be established as a legal parent, she would have to ask the court for an order establishing her parental rights legally. The court may order the person trying to establish herself as the “other mother” to prove the couple intended that she be the child’s parent. The same would be true of a same-sex relationship in which two men intended to be the child’s parents. They would have to prove to the court that they intended to be the child’s parents, and that they behaved that way. 

Once a person is established as the father or mother of a child, he or she will have all the rights and responsibilities of a parent:

  • He or she will be able to request custody and visitation (parenting time) orders from the court so that he or she can legally visit with his or her child.
  • He or she also will be responsible for paying child support and will have to pay half of the uninsured health-care costs for the children and half of the child-care costs that result from the custodial parent getting or having a job or going to school.

In California, in some cases the court may determine a child has more than 2 parents. This is usually done when it would hurt the child if additional parents were not legally recognized.

 

Reasons for Establishing Parentage of a Child


Establishing parentage is very important for a child. First, the child gets the emotional benefit of knowing who both of his or her parents are. And, legally, it entitles the child to the same rights and privileges as those of a child whose parents are married.

These legal rights and privileges are:

  • Financial support from both parents;
  • Legal documentation identifying both parents;
  • Having the names of both parents on the child’s birth certificate;
  • Access to family medical records and history;
  • Health and life insurance coverage from either parent;
  • The right to inherit from either parent; and
  • The right to receive social security and veteran’s benefits, if available.

Once parentage is established, the court can make orders for child support, health insurance, child custody, visitation (parenting time), name change, and reimbursement of pregnancy and birth expenses. Without establishing parentage, the court cannot make orders regarding these issues. So if 1 parent needs child support and the other will not pay voluntarily, the court will not be able to order child support until parentage is established.

And even if 1 of the child’s biological parents does not have any money or a job to support the child or does not want to be involved in the child’s life, it is still a good idea to establish parentage. The benefits to a child of establishing parentage go far beyond the financial issues as the list above shows and include things like allowing the child to get child support or health insurance later on, when the other parent gets a job or is in a better financial situation.



If a person is established as a legal parent of a child, that person MUST financially support the child. It is a crime for a legal parent to fail to support his or her child. A legal parent also has the right to get custody or visitation rights related to the child.