If a couple is not married, but they have a child together, the man is not automatically considered the baby’s legal father (with some exceptions). That means the man would not have parental rights. The court would not be able to grant custody or visitation or enforce any oral agreements made between the couple.
For the man to have a lawful right to spend time with his child, he must establish paternity. Being recognized as a child’s legal father can be done in a couple of ways. Depending on what path is pursued, paternity can be established when the child is born or any time after their birth.
What Does It Mean to Establish Paternity?
When a child is born to a married couple, both individuals in the relationship are lawfully the child’s parents. Neither must establish paternity.
However, paternity is not automatically established if the couple is unmarried. Although the woman is legally the child’s parent, the man is not. Therefore, he does not have any legal rights or responsibilities. Even if he wants to have a say in the child’s upbringing or see them every now and then, the mother can refuse. The court cannot compel her to agree to custody or visitation because the man is not the legal father.
For the man to be able to have access to his child and to request the court to enforce custody or visitation, he must be recognized as the child’s legal father. To do this, he must establish paternity. Once paternity is established, he can be granted parental rights and responsibilities. The court can also order him to pay child support.
Does Paternity Have to Be Established at a Certain Time?
Two paths exist to establishing paternity. One is signing a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity. The other is taking the matter to court. Neither avenue sets any time limit on when the action must be started or completed.
What Is the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity?
The Voluntary Declaration of Paternity is a form signed by both parents acknowledging the man as the baby’s father. The document can be signed at the hospital after the child’s birth. If it is completed then, the man will be recognized as the legal father and his name will go on the birth certificate.
Yet, it’s not required that the Voluntary Declaration be signed when the child is born. Both parents can sign it later. For the form to be valid, it must be signed before a notary public.
Or the parents must sign it at any of the following locations:
- Local child support agency,
- Registrar of births,
- Family law facilitator at a local court, or
- Welfare office.
The form must be submitted to the California Department of Child Support Services.
Provided that the man and the child’s mother sign the document voluntarily, it will establish the man as the legal father, the same way a court order would. Signing the Declaration of Paternity is more cost-effective and less time-consuming than requesting a court order.
What Happens If the Paternity Matter Goes to Court?
If the man and the child’s mother do not voluntarily sign the Declaration of Paternity and either wishes to establish the man as the legal father, they could seek a court order. The process begins with preparing and submitting a Petition to Establish Parental Relationship, Summons, and Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act form.
At the time the party petitions to establish paternity, they may also ask for orders concerning child support and custody/visitation.
After the forms are filed with the court, the petitioning party must have the other person served with a copy of the papers. The individual has 30 days to submit their response.
Depending on whether the other party responds and whether both parties agree on matters concerning the child, the next steps in the process will vary. For instance, if the other person does not file a response, the court can make a default judgment.
However, the parties must attend a court hearing if the other person does respond but they don’t agree on:
- Visitation, or
Contact an Attorney About Your Case
Establishing paternity is important for ensuring that the child gets the support and care they need and that both parents have the opportunity to have a role in the child’s life. Although a specific timeframe doesn’t exist as to when the legal parental relationship may be recognized, going through the process at any time can be challenging.
At Claery & Hammond, LLP, our Los Angeles team provides the guidance and counsel to protect parental rights. To speak with us about your case, please contact us at (310) 817-6904 today.