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What Are My Father's Rights in California?

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In California, both mothers and fathers have the same rights to parenting time with their child under appropriate circumstances. In today’s blog post, we review the state process of establishing paternity and what custody rights a father is entitled to.

Establishing Paternity in California

When it comes to paternity in California, the law assumes the identity of the child’s father in the following situations:

  • The child is born into a marriage and the mother’s husband is considered the child’s father.
  • The child is born, and a male has been living with the child’s mother in a family-like manner, has demonstrated a commitment to the child.

When the above two circumstances are not present, the child’s paternity needs to be established by external means. The easiest way to do this is through signing a “voluntary declaration of paternity” (VDP). When an unmarried woman gives birth, the medical providers at the birthing facility must provide her and the alleged father information on signing the VDP form. When the form is signed, both parents acknowledge that they are the child’s parents, and the father’s name is legally added to the birth certificate, assuming all rights and responsibilities to that child.

Another way to establish paternity in California is through a paternity action taken to court. Under state law, any of the following entities may ask the court for a paternity order:

  • the child’s mother;
  • any male who believes they are the child’s father;
  • any male who has been identified as the child’s possible father;
  • a local child support agency providing any services to the mother;
  • an adoption agency.

When a paternity action case is brought to court, the judge has the authority to order genetic testing to determine the male’s biological paternity. Note that any refusal to cooperate in the test could be considered by the judge as evidence of paternity.

In addition to ordering a genetic test, the court can also order the following in paternity action cases:

  • health insurance for the child;
  • child support;
  • payment for genetic testing;
  • payment for all court costs;
  • payment for either party’s legal fees;
  • visitation for the non-custodial payment;
  • physical and/or legal custody of the child.

Rights You Have as a Father

Under California state law, both parents have the right to seek custody as well as visitation rights. These rights remain regardless of the relationship between the parents. So, as the legal father of the child, you have the right to ask for equal parenting time, negotiated in a visitation agreement. If you have been awarded joint legal custody, both parents are equally involved in the decision-making process concerning the children, including all the major decisions regarding the health, education, safety, and welfare of the children. Joint legal custody is appropriate in most custody cases except those that involve parental conflict, domestic violence, child abuse, substance abuse, or situations where parents are unwilling to coparent.

In California, mothers are not given any special privileges or advantages, and if you are facing a mother who causes serious conflict, will not coparent, or has alienated or conditioned the children against you, you could argue that such an arrangement is not in your child’s best interests.

Parents also have the right to modify their custody order in the face of any detriment to the child’s best interests, such as a deteriorating relationship with the father. Parental alienation and conditioning of the children and ongoing false allegations are dangerous to the best interests of their children who are highly impressionable. In such scenarios, parents have the right to bring the issues to court.

While courts traditionally place full custody with the child’s mother, modern rulings have seen more and more fathers named the custodial parent and mothers receiving visitation. When a judge evaluates which parent receives the title of custodian, both the mother and father are evaluated on a level playing field, primarily considering each parent’s ability to care for and provide for the child as well as the relationship the child has with each parent.

Depending on the case, one parent might be named “primary custodian” and the other parent “non-custodian.” The child resides with the primary custodial parent, but the non-custodial parent is awarded visitation in different capacities, such as weekend visitations, unsupervised visitations, or supervised visitations.

Note that whether the mother or the father is named primary custodian, that individual has a right to seek assistance from child support, which is paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. Child support is meant to help cover the financial responsibilities of the child’s upbringing, such as medical costs, educational costs, and living costs like food, clothing, and shelter.

Let Claery & Hammond, LLP Help

If you are a father facing custody or visitation issues, contact a lawyer for legal representation. In California, both parents have the same rights to quality time with their children. If you have legal concerns or questions about your status as a father, especially if you feel your parental rights are being compromised, contact Claery & Hammond, LLP for legal support in your family case.

Speak with one of our attorneys at Claery & Hammond, LLP today for more information.


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