Paternity Issues in California

In California, paternity of a child is a legal issue in determining the rights and obligations of children and their legal fathers.

When a man is married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, the man is assumed to be the legal father of the child. Challenges to this assumption of paternity must be made within the child’s first two years of life, or the assumption becomes fact, even if the man is not the actual biological father of the child.

If the parents are not married at the time of the child’s birth, paternity can be established by the signing of the Paternity Opportunity Program’s Declaration of Paternity form. This document must be signed by both parents and filed with the state to be valid. The form is available at the hospital where the child is born and can also be obtained from local child support agencies, courts and local registrars.

Paternity can also be established by court order. If a man does not declare paternity, the mother and/or a local child support agency can file a request for a court to establish paternity. In this situation, the father will be served with a document called a Summons and Complaint. The man can go to court, and agree that he is the father - thus establishing paternity, or he can challenge the document to deny paternity. If he chooses to challenge the document, he must do so within 30 days of receiving the form. If he fails to respond to the form within the 30-day time limit, the court can automatically declare that he is the father as a matter of law.

Once paternity is established, the father has the same legal rights and obligations as the child’s mother. He has the same right as the mother to custodial time with his child to help raise him or her. He has the same right as the mother to make medical, religious, and educational decisions for the child. He may also have the right to declare the child as a dependent for income tax purposes. However, paternity also establishes legal obligations. A father has the same legal obligation as the mother to provide for that child’s health, safety and welfare – including the child’s financial support. This obligation can mean he may have to pay child support to the child’s mother or to a child support agency to ensure the wellbeing of his child.

To determine legal rights and obligations regarding the paternity of a child, contact a family law specialist of the local California child support agency.

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