Establishing Paternity

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What is Paternity?

Paternity means fatherhood. Establishing paternity is the legal process of determining the biological father of a child. When parents are married, in most cases, paternity is established without legal action. If parents are unmarried, paternity establishment requires a court order. The process should be started by both parents as soon as possible for the benefit of the child(ren).

Until paternity is established, the father does not have the legal rights or responsibilities of a parent. Establishing paternity is necessary before custody, visitation and child support may be ordered by the court. (Note: custody and visitation issues are handled separately from child support.) A permanent child support order cannot be established for a child until either the alleged father admits paternity or it is proven that he is the father. If the man does not admit that he is the father, the court may order the mother, child and alleged father to provide a blood sample for testing.

Benefiting from Paternity Establishment

If a father becomes involved with his child from the beginning of the child's life, he is more likely to continue to care for the child as he or she grows, both financially and emotionally.

Establishing paternity is an important first step in obtaining child support. In addition to providing the basis for obtaining support from the noncustodial parent, establishing paternity gives a child born to unmarried parents the legal rights and privileges of a child born within a marriage. Those rights and privileges may include:

  • Support from both parents
  • Legal documentation of who his or her parents are
  • Access to family medical records (Many diseases, illnesses, birth defects and other health problems are passed to children by their parents.)
  • Medical and life insurance coverage from either parent, if available
  • Inheritance rights
  • Social Security and veterans' benefits, if available
  • The emotional benefits of knowing who both parents are

How Paternity is Established

Paternity is established in court and can be done with or without the father's assistance. In the process of establishing paternity, the mother may be asked some questions about her intimate relationship with the father. These questions may be avoided if the alleged father appears at the DCSS for an interview, admits paternity and cooperates in the establishment of paternity. Also, if the alleged father agrees he is the father, he can sign a Declaration of Paternity form stating he is the father.

If the alleged father will not cooperate, the DCSS may establish paternity without the father's assistance. If the alleged father fails to answer a legal complaint that he is the father, the court can name him the father by default. Or, if the alleged father disagrees with or contests the claim that he is the father, paternity will be determined after a court-ordered genetic test has been administered.

Information that Helps Establish Paternity

The DCSS needs as much information as possible about the alleged father including:

  • Facts about the mother's relationship with him, her pregnancy and the child's birth
  • Whether or not the alleged father ever provided any money for the child
  • Whether or not the alleged father ever admitted in any way that the child was his (for example: through letters or gifts)
  • A picture of the alleged father with the child, if available
  • Any information from others who could confirm the mother and alleged father's relationship
  • His home and business address
  • Names and addresses of his previous employers
  • Whether or not the child was conceived in California, and if the child ever lived in California