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When is a Californian considered to be a child’s legal parent?

When a child is born to a married couple in California, it is presumed that the married couple are the child’s legal parents. However, when a child is born to an unmarried couple in California, for a father to have the right to seek custody or visitation with the child, or for the mother to pursue child support from the father, parentage — also called paternity — needs to be established. Paternity makes a father the child’s legal father, with all the rights and responsibilities that entails.

In California, paternity can be established in a couple of ways. The child’s parents could sign a voluntary Declaration of Paternity. This can be done at the hospital at the time of the child’s birth. If both parents sign, paternity is established, and the child’s mother does not need to prove paternity in court. Or, either of the child’s parents can pursue a court order establishing paternity, often through a DNA test.

There are some instances in which paternity will be presumed. Parents who were married to one another when the child was born are presumed to be the child’s legal parents even if they later divorce. If a father married the child’s mother after the child was born and agreed to have his name placed on the child’s birth certificate or he agreed to financially support the child, then paternity will be presumed. Paternity will also be presumed if a father welcomes the child into his residence and acts openly as the child’s father. So, as you can see, it is possible that a father could be a child’s legal parent even if he is not the child’s biological parent.

This post only touches on the basics of paternity in California, and those who want to learn more about establishing parentage may have many more questions. Family law attorneys are available in California to assist those with such questions. Children deserve to have a relationship with both parents and the support of both parents. For this reason, establishing paternity can be essential to the child’s well-being.

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Joseph R. Zoucha, Attorney & Counselor at Law
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Redwood City, CA 94063

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