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
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.