In California, the courts will make determinations of who a child’s legal parents are in cases called “paternity cases” or “parentage cases.” This determination can be important for a wide array of reasons. One significant reason is that when a person is determined to be a child’s legal parent, that parent has a duty to take care of that child and may be ordered to pay child support and/or health-care costs until the child reaches the age of 18. Failing to provide child support can result in civil and criminal penalties, including jail time. Establishing parentage is also important if a parent is seeking visitation rights with a child or is seeking joint or sole custody of the child. Because establishing parentage can affects the rights of both parents and the child for many years to come, it is important to have your interests well represented in any paternity litigation. At the Law Offices of Andy Cook, our San Diego Litigation and Paternity Lawyer can help.
Establishing Parentage/Paternity in California
When two people are married to each other when a child is born, the law presumes that the couple are the legal parents of the child, and so paternity/parentage is automatically established. When the parents of a child are not married, there are several different methods by which parentage/paternity can be established in California. The simplest way is for the father to sign a voluntary declaration of paternity, either when the child is born or later. If it is signed later, there are certain formal requirements for the declaration that must be met, and the declaration must be filed in court. If paternity is not established voluntarily, a local child support agency may bring an action to establish paternity. Either parent may initiate this process, or the child support agency may initiate this process on its own. Finally, either parent may go to court to establish paternity/parentage. Going to court will involve filling out court forms and may require a trial before a judge. Obtaining a court order of paternity/parentage will be critical in getting the court to issue an order for child support, custody, or visitation.
Disputing Paternity in California
Parties may dispute that a person is the actual father of the child and may be motivated to do so to either obtain or avoid child support or to obtain custody or visitation rights, or to prevent another party from having custody or visitation. Often times the court will require DNA testing to determine whether a party is the actual father, but this can be a far more complicated process than what is portrayed on TV. The court will not always allow for DNA testing, even when one party requests it, and the process for obtaining an order that one party submit to DNA testing can be long and complicated. Then, even where a DNA test indicates that a person is not the biological father of a child, the court may still declare that person the legal father. DNA tests may also not provide conclusive proof that a person is or is not the father, and the court will be faced with a difficult task of how to proceed based on the inconclusive test. Keep in mind that a party who has been served with a petition to establish parental relationship must respond to the petition within 30 days, and if he does not, the court may find that he is the legal parent of a child even if he does not show up in court, and may issue child support orders.
Seek Legal Representation with a San Diego Litigation and Paternity Lawyer
The process of establishing paternity in California courts can be complicated, and the results of the determination may affect the parties’ rights to child support, custody and visitation for many years to come. It is in your best interest to speak with an experienced attorney who can help guide you through this difficult process. The lawyers at the Law Offices of Andy Cook possess the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to provide you with the representation you need in this critical area.