“Establishing parentage” is the process of determining who the legal father of a child is if the parents were not married when the child was born. If the parents were married when the child was born, the law usually considers the husband to be the father. Establishing paternity creates a legal relationship between father and child, and confers all legal rights as if the child were born within a marriage to that father. It also confers the legal responsibility of child support.
When a child is born, unmarried parents can sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity before or after they leave the hospital. If there was no such declaration, as is the case with many unmarried parents, you may have to go through the courts to establish paternity. This requires filing a Petition to Establish Parental Relationship. The child, the child’s natural mother, or a man presumed to be the child’s father may bring an action to establish a parental relationship.
Usually a child’s parentage must be established before you can get child support or custody and visitation orders. When people who are not married cannot agree about parentage, the court can order genetic testing. This is usually done through blood tests. Once parentage has been established, the judge can then make an order regarding child support or custody and visitation as part of a case.
It is not uncommon for a father to have to go to court to be confirmed as a child’s father in order to have all of the rights and responsibilities of a “father.” It is also fairly common for an unmarried mother to have to go to court to compel a recalcitrant father to accept those responsibilities. It is important to keep in mind, however, that a parent, whether married or unmarried, has the responsibility to support his or her children and the payment of child support is not contingent on visitation rights that a parent may or may not have.
In the California paternity petition case, the parties can also request a name change for the child or an amendment to the birth certificate to reflect the true parentage of the child under California paternity law.