Does an Unwed Father Have Visitation Rights in California?

When a baby is born to married parents, the mother and father are presumed to be the child’s legal parents. But what if you and your child’s mother are unwed? Are you still considered the legal father? Do you have the right to see your child regularly?

Unfortunately, the law does not recognize an unmarried father as a child’s legal parent. To get a court order for visitation, you must establish paternity unless you are considered the presumed parent. You can establish paternity either by voluntarily filling out a declaration of parentage document or getting orders from the court.

Whatever path you take, once you have established yourself as your child’s legal father, you will have the rights and responsibilities of a legal parent. Thus, you would be able to develop a parenting time plan with your child’s mother and have the court issue visitation orders.

Ensuring that you have a role in your child’s life is important for their development. Our Los Angeles team at Claery & Hammond, LLP is here to help with your paternity action. Contact us at (310) 817-6904 today.

Establishing Paternity in California

If you and your child’s mother are not married, the law does not see you as your child’s legal parent. Therefore, you do not have legal rights and responsibilities concerning your child.

You and your child’s mother may agree on visitation, allowing you to see your child regularly. However, your agreement is not legally enforceable because you are not considered your child’s legal father. That means your child’s mother is not required to abide by it, and the court cannot do anything if she does not honor the terms.

Even if you are your child’s biological father, if you and your child’s mother are not married, you must establish paternity to get enforceable visitation rights. You can verify your parentage in two ways.

You can be recognized as your legal father by signing a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage or Paternity. You can either complete the form when your child is born or after. For it to be valid, you must also submit the document to the Department of Child Support Services Parentage Opportunity Program. Signing the Declaration is akin to having a court issue an order. However, you do not have to have your case heard in court.

You can also establish paternity by getting a court order. With this method, you would submit your request to the court. You may be required to submit to genetic testing and attend a hearing before the court decides your case.

If you’re not married to your child’s mother but are considered the presumed parent, you may have parental rights and responsibilities without establishing paternity. Being a presumed parent means the law recognizes you as your child’s legal parent because of your standing in the child’s life.

The law makes a presumption of parentage when:

  • The parents are married at the time of the child’s conception or birth,
  • The parents had an invalid marriage but they conceived or had the child during that marriage,
  • The father raised the child as his own, or
  • The father’s name is on the birth certificate, or he has supported the child.

Father’s Rights After Establishing Paternity

Whether you establish paternity by signing a Declaration or receiving a court order, you have parental rights and responsibilities once you are considered your child’s legal father. You can then ask the court for a visitation order.

After you establish parentage, the court may also order you to pay child support and half of your child’s health care expenses.

Developing a Parenting Time Plan

Before requesting visitation orders from the court, it is good to create a time-share plan with your child’s mother. The plan serves as an agreement between you both about how often your child will be with each of you. Drafting the document together gives you more control over when you get to see your child and ensures clear expectations regarding visitation.

When developing your parenting time plan, be sure to keep your child’s best interests and needs in mind. Of course, you and your child’s mother want as much access to your child as possible, but you must also consider your child’s needs, age, and personality.

Once the court approves your written agreement, it becomes an enforceable order. If your child’s mother does not abide by the terms or denies visitation altogether, you could take legal action to have the court order her to comply.

Reach Out to a Family Law Attorney

Any legal matter involving children is sensitive and emotional. At Claery & Hammond, LLP, our lawyers in Los Angeles can deliver the compassionate guidance you need through your case. We can help with your paternity action and protect your visitation rights.

For a free case evaluation, please contact us at (310) 817-6904 or online today.