Establishing Paternity in California

In California, Section 7540 of the Family Code states that a child of a wife living with her husband at the time of conception (unless he is impotent or sterile) is considered to be the husband’s child. However, a blood test (or any other legally accepted genetic testing) of the child to determine if the husband is/is not the father, can be used to determine actual paternity – but only during the child’s first two years of life.

The Code (in Section 7541) provides other ways for a person to establish paternity including:

  • Proof of legal adoption;

  • The mother and father were married to each other and the child was born during the marriage;

  • The person (married to the mother or not) consents to be named on the child’s birth certificate; or

  • The person establishes paternity by signing a legal document entitled, “Declaration of Paternity.”(This document may be signed at the time of the child’s birth or later in the child’s life.)

    Note: There are exceptions to these statutes including instances involving rape/involuntary rape at the time of conception.

But what if the child’s parents are not married at conception and/or birth, or the alleged parent disputes paternity? How is paternity established then?

Paternity can be established in a court proceeding without the alleged father’s assistance:

  • Either by default if the alleged father does not respond to a court hearing notice or the actual hearing to determine paternity; or

  • By court-ordered genetic testing to determine paternity.

The issue of paternity may seem like a simple legal matter, but it can be quite complicated. It is always in the best interests of any potential parent in a paternity case to get legal assistance either through a certified family law specialist or the local Department of Child Support Services.

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