In the last 20 to 30 years, the number of children born to unwed parents
has exploded. The reasons for this societal shift are closely related
to feminism, women becoming more financially independent, and the fact that
divorce and unwed parents have become socially acceptable.
Divorce attorneys aren’t the only ones to notice this trend, the
government has acknowledged it as well. According to
childwelfare.gov, “the significant percentage of births to unmarried parents has
led to an increased focus on the fathers of these children.”
In legalize, unwed fathers are commonly referred to as
presumed fathers and they’re making a stand when it comes to their parental
rights. Across the United States, family law attorneys and family courts
have fathers coming to them, seeking to have their legal rights recognized.
They’re also seeking larger roles in regards to raising their children.
In the 1990s, it was “normal” for fathers to see their children
once a week and on every other weekend, but today’s fathers are
playing a more active role in the childrearing process, and they’re
making sure the state laws are backing them up.
History of Fathers’ Rights
Historically, unmarried fathers did not enjoy the same rights to their
children as married fathers who obtained a divorce, nor did they have
the same rights as the unmarried mothers – they truly got the “shortened
of the stick” as the old saying goes.
However, in the past 20 years, fathers’ rights have been steadily
evolving. For example, in recent years unmarried fathers have been challenging
the termination of their parental rights under the Fourteenth Amendment
when unwed mothers were trying to put their children up for
Several of these adoption cases were taken all the way to the Supreme Court,
which ultimately confirmed that unmarried fathers have constitutional
protections when they demonstrate that they’ve established a “substantial
relationship” with their child.
Biological Link Gives Fathers Opportunities
The U.S. Supreme Court determined that due to the “biological link”
between unmarried fathers and their children,
fathers have the right to establish substantial relationships with their children. However, the
key word here is “substantial.” In order to establish a substantial
relationship with one’s child, the father must do one or more of
- Demonstrate that he’s involved in the child’s life
- Show that he is committed to being a father
- Attempt to be involved in the child’s upbringing
- Establish paternity voluntarily or through a court order
In cases where paternity has not been established legally, the states have
discretion when it comes to terminating a man’s parental rights
for the sake of an adoption. Many states have gone so far as to create
“paternity registries” that allow unwed fathers to voluntarily
paternity, California, however, follows other guidelines.
While at least 24 states currently have what are called “putative
father registries,” California does not. According to the
American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, instead of using putative father registries, 11 states, including California,
have forms that are filed with registrars of vital statistics and social
service departments that allow parents to voluntarily acknowledge paternity.
When an unmarried father in Los Angeles legally acknowledges paternity,
he receives certain rights, including the right to receive notice if an
adoption action or an action to terminate the mother’s rights is
filed with the courts.
California’s Definition of a Father
In California, the legal definition of a “father” can be found
under Family Code §§ 7601; 7611. Generally, a man is presumed
to be a child’s natural parent (nonadoptive parent) under the following
- The presumed father is married to the child’s mother and the child
is born while they are married, or the child is born within 300 days of
the marriage dissolving.
- Before the child was born, the presumed father and the child’s mother
attempted to get married, but the marriage was deemed invalid by a court
and the child was born within 300 days of the attempted marriage, or the
attempted marriage was invalid (no court order) and the child was born
within 300 days of the parents living separately and apart.
After the child was born, the presumed father and mother entered into an
invalid marriage or attempted to marry, and even though the marriage was
invalid, the presumed father’s name was put on the child’s
birth certificate with his consent, or the court ordered the presumed
father to pay
child support, or the presumed father received the child into his home and expressed
that he was the child’s natural father.
Effects of Establishing Paternity
If a child is born out of wedlock and none of the above on the bulleted
list applies, a presumed father has no legal rights or responsibilities
toward his child until paternity is established legally, even if he’s
been living with the child’s mother.
It is not uncommon for unmarried parents to cohabitate, sometimes for years
before they have children. Often, the couple has no intention of marrying,
or they are in no hurry to tie the knot.
If their child is born out of wedlock and the presumed father has any reason
to doubt paternity, he may be reluctant to voluntary acknowledge paternity
at the hospital after the child’s birth.
Or, it may be the natural mother who isn’t sure, so she hesitates
to put her boyfriend’s name on the form. Regardless of the circumstances,
whenever there is doubt about paternity, the presumed father should have
his DNA compared to the child’s after the birth.
Once paternity is established by the court through genetic testing, the
court can proceed with orders for child support,
child custody and
visitation. When paternity is confirmed, the unmarried father automatically has all
the same rights and responsibilities towards his child as a married father
who is divorcing his wife, the mother of his children.
Are you a father who needs a paternity test, or who otherwise needs to
exercise is father’s rights? If so,
contact our Los Angeles family law attorneys today for a free consultation!