Establishing Parentage and Paternity

Experienced Solano County Parentage Attorneys

Establishing parentage refers to the process of having a person identified as a child's legal parent.  Public policy in the state of California favors identifying 2 (or sometimes more) legal parents for every child living in the State. In most cases children benefit from having 2 parents (and in rare cases 3 or more) who are legally required to support them. For this reason California law provides several mechanisms for establishing the parentage of a child – both with and without the help of a court.

This process can be utilized by both same-sex and opposite-sex parents in establishing parentage, or affirming child custody and parenting orders.

Parents under the family code fall into two categories: natural parents and presumed parents.  A natural parent is a parent who gave birth to the child or has proof of adopting the child.  A presumed parent is a parent who has not yet been adjudicated to be a natural parent.  A presumed parent (i.e. a 'presumed natural parent') is someone who has the potential opportunity under the law to be established as a legal parent, but who has not yet done so.

There are several ways to confirm or contest the identity of a presumed parent (often a father or former partner) of a child in court.  A man may, but does not necessarily, lose his status as a presumed father if it is proven that he is not the biological father.  This means that biology should not be the court's only concern in determining parentage.  When paternity or parentage is disputed, a court may have to conduct a trial to determine whether or not a legally cognizable parental relationship exists between an adult and child.  In a nutshell - a DNA test, a birth certificate, or a relationship with the child may not be sufficient to avoid a Court battle if other potential mothers or fathers are competing for a role in the child's life.

Contact us today to learn more about how to ensure your parental rights are protected.

This is a rapidly expanding and complex area of the law.  Russo & Prince, LLP is one of the most experienced offices in the area in litigating and advising clients regarding contested paternity matters.  Contact us today to see how we can help you with your parentage or paternity matter.

Do I need to establish parentage?

Establishing legal parentage will be very important for a child if his or her parents become separated or divorced, in the future, or if they were never married or lived together. It allows the child to be legally entitled to receive child support and gives both parents the legal right to make important legal decisions regarding the child.  Establishing parentage is something couples should do as soon as possible - and they should not wait until they separate and things fall apart to protect their rights.

For example, when an unmarried woman gives birth to a child, or a married woman who is separated from her spouse becomes pregnant by someone other than her spouse, the biological paternity of the child may be in question. In such cases, an action under the California Uniform Parentage Act (sometimes called a UPA or  "paternity action") can be used to identify, confirm and/or establish the genetic, and thus the legal, relationship of who is the father/parent to that child.  Many parents have already obtained a voluntary declaration of paternity at the time of the child's birth, which has the same legal effect as a judgment of paternity.

How is parentage determined? What if there is a DNA test?

In California, parentage or "paternity" is sometimes (but not always) determined through genetic testing (i.e. DNA testing). In other cases, a person who is not a biological parent may be found to be the legal parent. This typically occurs when a child develops a parental attachment to a parent due to being raised as if the child were the biological child of the parent, and the parent has "held the child out" as his own.  This frequently occurs when one biological parent is absent and the child's remaining parent raises the child with a new partner.

What this means is that a DNA test will not always be the deciding factor.  Assisted reproduction technology, and same-sex marriages and domestic relationships can also give rise to complicated legal questions relating to a particular child's parentage. Such "non-genetic" parental relationships are sometimes formalized through different types of adoption proceedings, such as Step-Parent Adoptions. However, depending on the circumstances of a case, it is possible that they may also be established through the filing of a Uniform Parentage Action.

Who can file a parentage action?

The person entitled to file a court action regarding parentage of a particular child can vary depending on the differing factual circumstances of a given family. Most often a parentage action is commenced by a child's mother, her husband, a man who has reason to question whether or not he is either the child's biological father, or a man or woman who believes that he or she may be able to establish parentage rights as a result of an existing relationship that they have developed with another person's child. In addition, a local government child support enforcement agency (DCSS) may also be eligible to do so.

What next? 

Once the parentage of a child is established, both legal parents are usually entitled under the law to some relationship with the child, either through full custody, partial custody, or court-mandated visitation. The court can also order the payment of child support as between a child's parents, if such orders are requested by either or both of them.

California law has recently been amended to permit children to have more than 2 legal parents.  This is a new and developing area of the law.  In such cases, Family Code § 3040 directs that custody and a parenting schedule be determined as between all legal parents which is in the "best interests of the child."

You need an experienced attorney.  If you want to prove or contest your child's parentage, you need a lawyer who is not only experienced in family law, but has specific knowledge and experience in this relatively complicated area of California parentage law.

Can I sign away my parental rights?

Under most circumstances, the answer is no.  Unless your child is the subject of an adoption, and another parent is willing and able to step into your place as a legal parent to your child, you cannot sign away your parental rights.  You can relinquish custody to another parent or a legal guardian -- but you are still legally responsible for that child in many important respects, such as the payment of child support.  If you are considering whether you can waive your parental rights, or relinquish custody of your child, you should meet with an experienced attorney right away.

Here at the Law Offices of Russo & Prince, LLP we have several experienced family law attorneys who can help you to understand the complex intricacies of parentage law and can guide you through every step of the process. The more you know, the better equipped you'll be to get through what can be a very difficult ordeal.