In parentage cases, also called “paternity cases,” the court makes orders that say who the child’s legal parents are. If parents are married when a child is born, there is generally no question about parentage. The law assumes that the husband is the father and the wife is the mother, so paternity is automatically established in most cases. But for unmarried parents, parentage of their children needs to be established legally.
Registered Domestic Partners:
After January 1, 2005, if parents are registered domestic partners when a child is born, the law assumes that the domestic partners are the child’s parents. However, since this law is relatively new and unsettled, same-sex parents should get legal advice to make sure that the parentage is clear.
What it Means to Establish “Parentage”
Establishing parentage means obtaining a court order or signing an official Declaration of Paternity that says who the legal parents of a child are.
- Establishing parentage is necessary before custody, visitation, or child support will be ordered by a court. You can ask the judge for child support or custody and visitation orders as part of a case that establishes the child’s parentage.
- If a person does not admit that he or she is the parent, the court may order the alleged father, mother, and child to submit to genetic testing.
Once a person is established as the father or mother of a child, he or she will have all the rights and responsibilities of a parent:
- He or she will be able to request custody and visitation orders from the court so that he or she can legally visit with his or her child.
- He or she also will be responsible for paying child support and will have to pay half of the uninsured health-care costs for the children and half of the child-care costs that result from the custodial parent getting or having a job or going to school.
If a person is established as a legal parent of a child, that person must financially support the child. It is a crime for a legal parent to fail to support his or her child. A legal parent also has the right to get custody or visitation rights related to the child. Jorgensen & Salberg can help you work through this emotional and oftentimes contentious process.
Why Establish Parentage of a Child?
Establishing parentage is very important for a child. First, the child gets the emotional benefit of knowing who both of his or her parents are. And, legally, it entitles the child to the same rights and privileges as those of a child whose parents are married.
- Financial support from both parents;
- Legal documentation identifying both parents;
- Having the names of both parents on the child’s birth certificate;
- Access to family medical records and history;
- Health and life insurance coverage from either parent;
- The right to inherit from either parent; and
- The right to receive social security and veteran’s benefits, if available.
Once parentage is established, the court can make orders for child support, health insurance, child custody, visitation, name change, and reimbursement of pregnancy and birth expenses. Without establishing parentage, the court cannot make orders regarding these issues, so if 1 parent needs child support and the other will not pay voluntarily, the court will not be able to order child support until parentage is established.
Even if 1 of the child’s biological parents does not have any money or a job to support the child or does not want to be involved in the child’s life, it is still a good idea to establish parentage. The benefits to a child of establishing parentage go far beyond the financial issues as the list above shows and include things like allowing the child to get child support or health insurance later on, when the other parent gets a job or is in a better financial situation.
The law will presume a person is a child’s other parent under the following circumstances (unless proved otherwise to a court). For example, John will be presumed to be the child’s other parent if:
- He was married to the child’s mother when the child was conceived or born;
- He attempted to marry the mother (even if the marriage was not valid) and the child was conceived or born during the “marriage”;
- He married the mother after the birth and agreed either to have his name on the birth certificate or to support the child; or
- He welcomed the child into his home and openly acted as if the child was his own. This concept is called “parentage by estoppel” and means that the court can find that a man is the legal father, even if he is not the biological father, if he has always treated the child as his own.
The presumptions that apply to married couples also apply to those who entered into a registered domestic partnership after January 2005.
Two Main Ways to Establish Parentage:
1. Signing a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity– A voluntary Declaration of Paternity is a California governmental form that, when signed by both parents, establishes them as the legal parents of the child. The form must be signed voluntarily. The purpose of the Declaration of Paternity is to officially and legally establish who the father of the child is when the mother and father are not married to each other. A properly signed Declaration of Paternity has the same effect as a court order establishing paternity for the child, without anyone having to go to court. The form must be filed with the California Department of Child Support Services
2. Getting a Court Order- the attorneys at Jorgensen & Salberg can assist you with this process.