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How is paternity established in California?

When determining who is legally recognized as the parent of the child, it is often straightforward if the parents are married at the time of the child’s birth. California law generally assumes that the two people in a marriage are the legal parents of their child by default.

The same holds true for parents that are registered domestic partners when the child is born. As of January 1, 2005, California law assumes that domestic partners are the child’s parents. 

However, if the parents are unmarried, the subject of paternity can become more muddled. Establishing paternity means identifying who is legally recognized as the parents of the child. 

How paternity can be established

There are two primary ways that paternity can be established in California:

  • Sign a Declaration of Paternity: The Declaration of Paternity is a legal form that establishes both people who sign as the parents of the child. The important thing to know is that this form is completely voluntary. Neither person can force the other to sign the form.
  • Get a court order: If one parent does not consent to signing the Declaration of Paternity, you may have to get a court order to help facilitate the process. You may be able to get the court order on your own, or you can enlist your local child support agency to assist you.

Why establishing paternity is important

Taking the time to establish paternity is beneficial for your child. Establishing paternity bestows certain rights and privileges on your child, including the following:

  • Entitles the child to financial support from both parents
  • Gives the child the right to inherit assets from both parents
  • The child may be eligible for Social Security and veteran’s benefits
  • Allows the child to receive health and life insurance coverage from both parents

Additionally, establishing paternity may be necessary to receive child support, visitation time and reimbursement of pregnancy expenses.

Ideally, both parents will come together and establish paternity for the good of the child. If you are unable to get your partner to consent to establishing paternity, there are still options available to you. Having the case litigated in a courtroom may be necessary to help ensure your and your child's well-being are met.

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