The Two Ways California Courts Establish Paternity


Legally establishing paternity is important for both you and your child. Having your name on your child’s birth certificate gives you the right to ask for custody and visitation. It allows them to be covered by your medical and life insurance, gives them access to family medical histories, and makes it easier for them to inherit assets. It also makes it possible for you to grant them the permission they need (until they turn 18) to enroll in schools, obtain a passport, and get their driver’s license.

California law assumes that when a child’s mother is married, her spouse is the child’s father (or other parent). In cases where the parents are married, parentage is established automatically. The same goes for children born to registered domestic partners. If you are not married to or in a registered domestic partnership with your child’s mother, you must legally establish paternity in one of the following ways:

  1. Sign a voluntary Declaration of Paternity.

This document must be signed by both legal parents of the child, and they both must sign voluntarily. The form can be signed at the hospital when the child is born, in which case both parents’ names will appear on the birth certificate. If you do not sign until later, you will have to do so at a child support agency, at a family law facilitator, at a welfare office, or at the registrar of births. After signing, you must file the form with the California Department of Child Support Services Paternity Opportunity Program. 

In cases where the Declaration of Paternity is not signed at the hospital, the original birth certificate will only have the mother’s name and you will have to request a new birth certificate with the second parent’s name.

  1. Get a court order to establish paternity.

Since no one can be forced to sign a declaration of paternity and both parents must sign for it to be effective, there are situations in which one parent may refuse. There are many reasons this could happen. It could be because the mother does not want the father to have a relationship with the child, or because the father does not want to be involved or does not believe he is the biological father, or for countless other reasons.

If you decide to establish paternity through the courts, which it is possible for either parent to do, you can either do so yourself or you can ask for help from your local child support agency.

This process will involve filling out many forms. It may also involve genetic testing. The petitioner must fill out the Petition to Establish Parental Relationship, a Summons, and a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. You will need to file your forms with the court clerk, and serve your papers to the other parent.

The rest of the process will be determined by whether or not the other parent responds and whether or not you can reach an agreement about parentage, custody, visitation, and child support.

The process of establishing paternity is, as mentioned before, extremely important, but it can also become stressful and overwhelming. An attorney experienced in family law can help you navigate the system and complete your parentage case. At the Law Offices of Kayleene H. Writer, PLC, we offer free consultations. Give us a call today at (949) 353-6151 to find out how we can help you with establishing paternity and other family law matters.