Paternity Laws in California: What You Need to Know

Father with toddler on a beach in California after establishing paternity post-divorce
If you are facing a paternity dispute with another party, you may understandably feel overwhelmed. However, you are not alone.

The reality is, paternity disputes are common in the state of California. Disputes evolve from situations where the biological parentage is in question, or when a man may strongly believe that he is the biological father of a child despite the fact the child’s mother adamantly denies it.

Before you can effectively address your paternity issue, it is critical that you understand paternity laws in California. Continue reading to review what the paternity law says about fathers’ rights in California, and steps you can take to get the help your situation calls for.

Importance of Paternity in California

According to paternity laws in California, establishing paternity involves an order from the court that indicates whom a child’s legal parents are, or an official declaration of paternity.

Establishing paternity is necessary before a family law court will order payments for child support, visitation, or custody. Paternity is also important for gaining access to health care records, medical insurance for the child, and government benefits related to the child.

Paternity Laws in California Pertaining to Married Couples

When it comes to fathers’ rights in California, the paternity laws says that if two individuals are married and have a child together, the husband should be recognized as the child’s father. Meanwhile, the wife should be deemed the child’s mother. In other words, the legal institution of marriage is what establishes the man’s paternity.

Paternity Laws in California Pertaining to Unmarried Couples

So what do the paternity laws in California say about unmarried couples? If the parents of a child were not married when the child was conceived or born, the baby technically has no legal father. The parents must formally establish paternity for the man to be recognized as the child’s father.

In addition, even if the man proves that the child is his through genetic testing, he does not have any legal rights or responsibilities for the baby until the court establishes paternity.

Parenting Laws in California Related to the Concept of “Estoppel”

In some situations, the court will determine that a man is indeed a child’s legal father even if the man is not the biological father of the child. This concept is known as paternity by estoppel.

Based on this concept, the court will presume that the man is the father of the child if he has resided with the child and the child’s mother, as well as demonstrated his dedication to this child. This will occur no matter what the man’s paternity test results may be. In such a situation, the child’s mother would not have to order a test to require the man to assume responsibility for paying child support.

An Overview for Establishing Paternity

Father with baby on the beach laughing

As a general rule of thumb, the easiest method for establishing paternity involves signing a declaration of paternity voluntarily. In this scenario, both of a child’s parents have to agree to signing this form, typically when a woman who is not married gives birth. Through signing this form, the two parents acknowledge being the child’s legal parents. The child’s father can thus be listed on the child’s birth certificate and assume legal parental responsibilities and rights.

However, let’s stay that two parents cannot agree to sign a paternity declaration. In this case, they have no choice but to take their paternity matter to court. Based on paternity laws in California, multiple parties can seek a paternity order from the court. These include the following:

  • The mother of the child
  • The man who thinks he is the child’s father
  • The child himself or herself (if he or she is older than 12 years)
  • An agency that handles adoption
  • A local agency that focuses on child support

The court can then order testing with the goal of determining whom the child’s biological father is. Note that even if a man leaves California before a family law judge can prove paternity, the court can still order the man to cover child support payments in any other state.

Statute of Limitations Related to Paternity

In California, it is possible for paternity to be established up to three years following the 18th birthday of a child. In addition, let’s say that you are married when your baby is born but you have doubts about who the father is. In this case, you can obtain an order from the court for a blood-based test within two years of the birth of the child.

Seek the Legal Assistance of Attorney Michael C. MacNeil Regarding Paternity Issues

Paternity laws in California are no doubt complicated, particularly with unmarried couples or same sex couples. Navigating complex family law court forms, court orders, and genetic testing, for example, can add to the uncertainty and stress. For this reason, it is critical that you consult with an attorney rather than trying to tackle your paternity issue yourself.

I, Michael C. MacNeil, possess extensive experience with representing clients who are facing paternity issues. I understand paternity laws in California, including what the paternity law says about fathers’ rights in California. I can therefore help you to achieve the most personally favorable outcome given the circumstances surrounding your case.

We can start by going over the specifics of your case during a free consultation. Then, we can discuss which outcome would be in the best interest of both you and the child involved in your paternity situation. After that, we’ll take the necessary steps to bring this outcome to fruition.

Note that during your interactions with me, you will never have to deal with a paralegal or secretary, as I will personally handle the details of your case. I value delivering personalized and high-quality service to you, my valued client.

Get in touch with me to learn more about how I can help you to fully understand what the paternity law says about fathers’ rights in California, as well as navigate paternity laws in California with success going forward.

About Michael MacNeil

Michael C. MacNeil is a San Diego Family Law and Criminal Defense attorney. With a Juris Doctor degree from the University of San Diego School of Law, MacNeil has a solid understanding of our justice system. As a member of the State Bar of California, MacNeal can practice before all courts in the state. MacNeil believes that the law should be accessible to everyone, regardless of their financial status. With over 20 years of experience, Michael C. MacNeil is passionate about the law and will work tirelessly to get the best possible outcome for you. Call Mr. MacNeil at 858-922-7098.