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How to Establish Paternity in California

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There are a few different ways for a parent, married or unmarried, to establish parentage of their biological child. Depending on your situation with the other parent, you could resolve the matter by signing a declaration of parentage or going to court. Keep reading to learn more details about your options for establishing parentage in the state.

Ways to Establish Paternity

Sign a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage

If both parents who are unmarried sign a declaration of parentage or paternity, it establishes that they are the legal parents of the child. Note that signing such a declaration of parentage or paternity is voluntary.

Parents can sign a declaration at the hospital when the child is born, and doing so will put both parents’ names on the child’s birth certificate. As a result, the birth mother will not need to go to court to prove who the other parent of the child is. This declaration can be signed later instead. If the parents sign it after the child’s birth certificate has been issued, a new birth certificate can be issued with the other parent's name.

Parents can request the form by emailing, or they can obtain it from their county’s:

  • local child support agency icon;
  • registrar of births icon;
  • family law facilitator at their local superior court; or
  • welfare offices icon.

Keep in mind that the declaration of parentage or paternity must be signed at one of the above public agencies (unless it was signed at the hospital) or witnessed by a notary public. Once the declaration is signed, the form must be filed with the California Department of Child Support Services Parentage Opportunity Program (POP) icon in order to be effective. A properly signed declaration of parentage or paternity has the same effect as a court order establishing parentage for the child, without anyone having to go to court. After a signed declaration of parentage or paternity is filed with the court, the judge has the authority to make orders for custody, visitation, and support between the two parents.

Contact Your Local Child Support Agency

A parent’s local child support agency icon can bring an action to establish parentage for the individual if both parents do not sign a voluntary declaration. Every county has a local child support agency to help parents support and provide health insurance for their children. Note that as part of this action, the court will ask for a child support order.

To begin the process, call the local agency and ask for an appointment to open a case for parentage and support. Parents can open a case even when the mother is still pregnant, and a genetic test can be ordered after the child is born if the other person denies being the parent. Either or both parents can ask for this service. Note that if one parent is on welfare for the children, the local child support agency will automatically get involved and open a case.

Go to Court

If a parent wants to handle their own case to establish parentage, they will need to fill out, serve, and file several court forms. They may also need to have a trial before a judge. Either parent can start a parentage case on their own, and such a case will allow the parents to ask for orders about custody, visitation, and child support.

Note that an individual does not need to file a parentage case if:

  • both parents are unmarried but signed a voluntary declaration of parentage or paternity;
  • both parents are married or are registered domestic partners, including same-sex marriages;
  • the local child support agency already filed a parentage and child support case in court; or
  • both parents are involved in a domestic violence restraining order case, and they both agree to parentage of the child and to the court entering a judgment about parentage.

To start a parentage case, an individual should file their case in the county where the child lives or can be found. If unaware of the child’s location, the person can start the case in the county where they live. However, note that the judge may decide later that another county or state should handle the case.

Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP for More Information

If you seek to establish parentage in California, you have a few different options depending on your situation. It is best to consult an experienced family lawyer to streamline the process, whether you pursue parentage by signing a voluntary declaration with the other parent or, if they are unwilling, going to court. Our team at Claery & Hammond, LLP can examine your case and determine your best legal strategy to establish parentage in the state.

Contact us at Claery & Hammond, LLP to discuss your case in more detail.


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