Under California law, a child’s legal parents can be legally established absent marriage. This is known as a “parentage” or “paternity” action. When a child is born during a marriage, the law presumes that the husband and wife are the child’s parents. However, when a child is born outside of marriage, parentage of the child must be legally established before certain legal rights and/or responsibilities for the child can be determined. This is crucial for a number of reasons, not the least of which is establishing a parent’s right to be part of a child’s life. It also impacts issues such as parenting time (physical custody/visitation), participation in important decision-making regarding the health, safety, and welfare of a child (legal custody), and payment or receipt of support and/or reimbursement for certain expenses. Persons in same-sex relationships can also establish legal parentage, just as those in heterosexual relationships.
Why Establish Parentage?
Here at Irwin & Irwin, we regularly encounter various family dynamics wherein parentage is a crucial issue, including:
Single mothers (expecting or otherwise)
Parents desiring a greater role in a child’s life
Both mothers and fathers alike may have an interest in establishing legal parentage depending on the circumstances of the situation. Whether mother or father, a parentage action may be critical in ensuring you receive financial assistance from the other parent in raising the child. Once a person is legally established as a child’s parent, he or she MUST financially support the child. In fact, it is a criminal offense not to provide such support. However, establishing parentage is also important in placing one’s name on the child’s birth certificate (if not already there), accessing the child’s medical, school, legal, and other records, setting up an inheritance for the child, and various other rights/privileges.
In the alternative, a parentage action can be brought if the other parent is not involved in the child’s life, and you wish to be the primarily responsible parent physically and/or legally. On the other hand, such an action can be brought if one parent is unreasonably isolating or refusing access to the child. Of note, a parentage action may be brought even before the child is born, while the mother is still pregnant with the child.
As mentioned above, persons in same-sex relationships may also file parentage actions in California. Importantly, as of 2005, same-sex parents in a registered domestic partnership when a child is born are legally presumed to be the child’s parents. This akin to the presumption afforded to heterosexual marriages. There are also multiple other situations under which the law presumes a person is a child’s parent. The details of these presumptions are best left for discussion with legal counsel
Interestingly, there are circumstances under which California law will recognize a child as having more than two legal parents. This generally occurs when a court determines that doing so is in the best interest of the child. Again, more detailed discussions of such situations are best left for consultation with legal counsel based on the specifics of your particular situation.
Court Orders Regarding The Child
Once parentage is established, the court will likely make orders regarding any combination of the following:
Child Custody (both legal and physical)
Reimbursement of Expenses
When paternity is in dispute, the court may also order that DNA testing be performed to provide evidence one way or the other. This generally involves a simple swab of the person’s mouth to collect saliva for genetic analysis. The test usually costs a few hundred dollars to perform.
The above information is meant to help you determine whether a parentage action might be appropriate for you and is not meant as any form of legal advice. If you think your situation may call for a parentage action or have additional questions, we recommend that you contact an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your situation.
Disclaimer: The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established