California Paternity Testing Laws


Paternity is a crucial factor in many different types of legal family matters. Both parents are responsible for the financial and physical well-being of their children. Sometimes it takes paternity testing to invoke the rights and responsibilities of parenthood. Establishing paternity allows fathers to visit and seek custody of their children. It also will enable mothers to seek child support. Additionally, children benefit from established paternity in several ways, such as knowing their genetics and being entitled to certain insurance coverage and government or retirement benefits.

When Does California Assume Paternity?

Under the law, California courts assume the paternity if:

  • The child is born during a marriage, as the law presumes the husband is the child’s father
  • The child is born when a man cohabitates with the mother, volunteers to be in a father-like role, and commits to the child

In all other circumstances, a child’s paternity will likely need to be proven through other means.

Establishing Paternity in California

Voluntary Declaration of Paternity

When the mother and a man agree that he is the father, they can establish paternity by signing a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity. Signing this declaration shows that both parties agree that they are the biological mother and father of the child. If necessary, a new birth certificate can be issued with the established father’s name on it.

When the man signs this declaration, he forfeits the right to claim later he isn’t the biological father. He is also waiving his right to ask later to establish paternity legally through a court trial and DNA testing.

Court Order

Another way to establish paternity is with a court order. The Uniform Parentage Act, California Family Code Section 7600, allows a paternity case to be initiated by any of the following people:

  • The man who suspects a child is biologically his
  • The child’s mother
  • A child at least 12 years of age
  • An adoption agency
  • An agency that serves the mother’s needs

If one of these parties requests it, the court orders genetic testing of the parents to find out if the child’s DNA matches their parents’ DNA. Suppose the alleged father won’t cooperate and submit to genetic testing. In that case, the court is allowed to consider his refusal as evidence that he is the biological father.

However, if a man thinks he is the child’s father, but the child’s mother won’t cooperate, unfortunately, the court doesn’t always jump in and order DNA testing to prove paternity. Such a situation is an example of when it’s critical to have the legal assistance of a California family law attorney.

Is There a Deadline to Establish Paternity in California?

California doesn’t have a statute of limitations or a deadline addressing how long a father has to establish his paternity. If there’s uncertainty about a child’s parentage, the court can order blood tests to establish paternity for as long as up to two years following the child’s birth. Unmarried fathers may legally pursue child custody and visitation until the child’s 18th birthday. In fact, potential fathers have the right to petition the court to establish their paternity as many as three years after the child has turned 18 years old.

Why Establish Paternity?

Establishing paternity has many benefits for all parties involved. For fathers who want to be involved in their child’s life, proving paternity will establish them as biological parents, which gives them the legal right to have a relationship with their child. On the other hand, if a father avoids his parental legal responsibility, establishing paternity through the court can force him to be responsible for legal and financial obligations to support his child.

For mothers, proving paternity might be their only option to receive financial support for their child and hold the child’s father legally responsible for his child.

Through paternity establishment, the child can potentially receive the shelter and support they deserve as well as a crucial emotional understanding of who they are.

Additional benefits to establishing paternity for the child include:

  • Giving the father the ability to sign essential documents concerning the child
  • Understanding vital genetic health risks
  • Establishing inheritance rights
  • Accessing family records
  • Accessing documents that identify both parents
  • Getting medical insurance coverage
  • Securing life insurance benefits from their father
  • Receiving veterans or Social Security benefits from the father
  • Obtaining other dependent-based assistance from the government

With established paternity, the court can move forward to make other decisions about the father’s rights and responsibilities involving the child. These decisions can include:

  • Custody and visitation rights
  • Child support
  • Name changes
  • Other legal and financial issues

If you need help establishing paternity or have questions about the process or laws, contact an experienced California family law attorney.