How Is Paternity Established in Divorce Proceedings?

Posted in Divorce on August 1, 2022

If your divorce case in Solana Beach involves children, you may need to deal with issues of paternity. Paternity cases, also called parentage cases in the California family courts, are legal actions that determine the identity of a child’s legal parents. Here’s what you need to know about establishing paternity in a divorce case in California.

When Is it Necessary to Establish Paternity in a Divorce Case?

The family law courts in California will not recognize an individual’s parental rights during a divorce case unless he or she is the established parent or legal guardian of the child. Birth mothers are always presumed parents; they never have to prove parentage. Fathers, however, need legal documents proving their paternity.

It may be necessary to establish paternity in a divorce proceeding in California if one parent’s legal rights are being disputed. For example, a father who wants to have legal and custodial rights over a child in a divorce case will need to establish paternity if this has not already been done. A mother may wish to establish paternity, on the other hand, to receive child support from the child’s biological father.

Presumed Parentage

California law presumes parentage when a child is born to two married parents. Unless proven otherwise in court, a father will become the presumed parent of a baby if he was married to (or attempted to marry) the child’s mother at the time of the child’s conception or birth. If the father married the mother after the birth of the child and agreed to have his name on the birth certificate, this will also establish presumed parentage.

Finally, if a father welcomes a child into his home and openly acts as if the child is his own, this establishes “parentage by estoppel.” This means the man is the legal father of the child even if he is not the biological father. As of January 2005, same-sex couples who have entered into registered domestic partnerships will have the same parentage presumptions applied to them. If parentage is not presumed, there are two ways to establish paternity in California: signing a voluntary declaration or obtaining a court order.

Voluntary Parentage

If an individual wishes to voluntarily become the legal parent of a child, he or she can sign a declaration of parentage in California. This document can be signed at the hospital when the child is born, which will add the parent’s name to the child’s birth certificate. The declaration can also be signed after the birth of the child. If a birth certificate has already been issued prior to voluntary parentage, a new one can be ordered.

To sign a voluntary parentage form outside of the hospital, the father will need to visit a qualified public agency (e.g., a local child support agency, registrar of births or family law facilitator) or have the signing of the document witnessed by a notary public. Upon signing the voluntary parentage document, it must be filed with the California Department of Child Support Services Parentage Opportunity Program to go into effect. This will establish parentage without the parent needing to go to court.

Genetic Testing and Paternity Disputes

If someone wishes to dispute or establish paternity with a court case, genetic testing using DNA can be used to determine the biological father of a child. Genetic testing may be necessary during a divorce case if a man is not sure whether he is the father of the child or is denying paternity. By taking DNA samples from both the alleged father and the child to see if they are a match, the courts can confirm or deny paternity.

If paternity is established through genetic testing, the family law courts can make orders regarding child custody, visitation and child support in a divorce case. A judge will make these decisions based on what will best protect the interests, welfare, safety and well-being of the child. If your divorce case in Solana Beach involves issues of paternity, contact an attorney at Ratzer|Dobis for more information.