Can Paternity Be Established without DNA Evidence?

Paternity is an important issue that isn’t as easy to resolve outside of a marriage as most people think. Many people believe paternity is established when a man signs a child’s birth certificate, but this doesn’t actually convey any legal parental rights or responsibilities for a child. Instead, fathers seeking legal rights to a child and mothers seeking child support from a possible father must petition the court to establish paternity through a legal process.

How Is Paternity Established in California?

Paternity can be quickly established when both parents sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form. This document indicates that two people acknowledge they are a child’s parents and that the man is the biological father. This can be signed at the hospital, which is perhaps where the misconception that signing a birth certificate conveys rights and responsibilities to a child comes from.

In cases where a child is born into a heterosexual marriage, the husband is presumed to be the child’s legal father even if it’s known that another man is biologically related to the child. If the husband wishes to contest paternity, or a similar paternity dispute arises between two unmarried people, the party that wishes to dispute or establish paternity must petition the court to do so.

Yes, Paternity Can Be Established without DNA Evidence

A man can be designated as a child’s legal father even if he has no real or known biological connection to the child. This can happen when a mother sues a man for paternity, and he answers questions in court that affirm he is the child’s father.

This is why it’s important for men who doubt their biological relationship to a child to seek legal counsel to help them avoid making answers that inadvertently indicate they are a child’s biological father. An attorney can also help them assert their right to a DNA test to determine paternity when a mother is seeking child support.

Default Judgements in Paternity Lawsuits

Men shouldn’t ignore the court’s request to submit to a paternity test. Simply refusing to undergo a DNA test will not protect someone from becoming a child’s legal father. When someone fails to comply with the petition for paternity, the court may issue a default judgment against them, which means that a man can be granted paternity without a paternity test.

What about Same-Sex Couples?

In California, paternity in same-sex couples is established the same way as it is for any other marriage: When one spouse gives birth, the other spouse is the presumptive legal parent regardless of their biological relationship to a child. With a same-sex couple, the lack of a biological relationship to one parent is self-evident.

A child can be born into a female same-sex marriage but been conceived when one of the spouses had heterosexual intercourse. This actually happened in 2013 when a man sued for paternity after conceiving a child that was later born to two married women. Because California law only recognized two legal parents at the time, he was unsuccessful. Legislation that followed the case made it possible for a child to have more than two legal parents.


DNA evidence can be compelling when it comes to a paternity dispute, but it’s not necessary for a judge to legally designate someone as a child’s legal father. This is why it’s crucial for men who doubt their paternity to a child to seek legal counsel that can help them assert their right to a DNA test.

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