Embarking on what hopes to be a lifetime partnership commitment means many things to the individuals involved. The oaths of “until death do us part” and standing by your mate both “in sickness and in health” will always be the bedrocks of matrimony that one hopes will last a lifetime. Sadly, the unions sometimes do not. 

With many marriages or domestic partnerships, starting a family is a primary goal. Once children become a part of the family union, it’s important to establish and understand the dynamic of the new family core system. If, God forbid, the marriage or partnership does not last a lifetime, then establishing the paternity guidelines for the child or children will be key in guiding the legal system to decide which spouse will raise and take care of that child through his or her formative years. 

Defining Paternity Law

The word paternity is defined as “the state of being a father,” according to Leon F. Bennett, ESQ., an expert in California paternity law. In parentage cases, also called “paternity cases,” the court determines exactly who the child’s legal parents are. If the couple is legally married when a child is born, the determination of parentage is fairly clear cut. It is legally assumed that the married couple are the child’s natural parents.

But for unmarried parents, parentage of their children needs to be legally established by signing a declaration of parentage or obtaining a court order. Until these records are filed, the child officially does not have a legal father. In this case, even if a man can prove that he is the biological father of the child, he may not have any rights because he is not now nor has ever been married to the mother. 

It’s important to note that parents are legally responsible for their children and their support, whether the couple is married or not. Even in cases where a father does not want the responsibility of raising a child or separates from his partner even before the birth, the biological father remains responsible for the health and welfare of the child. For the family left behind by what’s often referred to as a “deadbeat dad,” having paternity legally acknowledged will be critical to getting the father’s help in ongoing financial support of the child.

Naming the Father: How to Establish Paternity

If there is a child custody issue, the simplest and cleanest way to establish paternity is to simply list the father’s name on the baby’s birth certificate.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regulations, states must give unwed parents the chance to voluntarily establish paternity by signing a document of parental acknowledgement preferably at the hospital at the time of birth.

In California, signing a voluntary declaration of paternity is the only way that an unmarried father’s name can be listed on a child’s birth certificate. If both parents do sign this voluntary declaration of paternity, then parental rights are firmly established and the document is as legally binding as any court order. 

If the declaration is not signed in the hospital at the time of birth due to the father’s absence or some other reason, the declaration of parentage can be signed later by visiting a public agency like a welfare office or superior court in your city of residence.

Once signed, the form must be filed with the California Department of Child Support Services to become valid and enforceable. Now in the case of divorce mediation or divorce collaboration, a legally binding decision relating to visitation, custody and support. 

With the signing of the declaration, each party acknowledges and freely admits to being that child’s parent and thus waive certain rights such as hiring a lawyer and entering into a court trial to determine parentage after the fact. You also lose the ability to request genetic DNA testing to establish biological parentage.

That’s why it’s important to understand that once parentage is legally established, it is extremely difficult to rescind.

How Paternity Effects Child Support

Of the many reasons to legally establish parentage at the beginning of a child’s life, is to assure that the security of child support will be available in the unfortunate event that the couple divorces. You must always consider the implications of child spousal support law. Of course, even with parentage established, that doesn’t mean that some fathers will try to back-pedal out of paying child support or, worse, simply refuse to pay. That’s where the experienced legal team of Leon F. Bennett can help Southern Californians protect their child support rights under California Law. And if the unenviable action of divorce is necessary to end a marriage, divorce mediation may be the best way to go.

Even a father who refused to put his name on the birth certificate or sign a paternity statement does not excuse him from his responsibility of paying child support down the road. In such a case, with the help of a seasoned family law attorney, the father will be taken to court to establish  parentage. Once established, a judge can then authoritatively rule on all aspects of child custody and child support.

On the other side of the parentage coin, men should note that if they are not the biological father or aren’t sure if they are, they may want to refrain from signing a paternity declaration. Again, once signed, these declarations are nearly impossible to undo, and the signee will then be liable for child support.

For fathers, it is vitally important to establish paternity in order to secure rights as the child’s father. The failure to sign the paternity declaration at the time of the child’s birth can prove to be a big mistake in cases where mom seeks to prevent the biological father from participating in the child’s life.

Defining Parentage in a Same-Sex Relationship

Same-sex partnerships present a cloudier definition when it comes to parentage rights. Foremost, determining the legal nature of the couple’s tenure means understanding when the relationship became a legally binding event. If the couple was legally married and then spawned a child through a surrogate or adopted a child in a state where that union was legally acknowledged, then there is a clearer determination of parentage. However, if the couple had entered into a Domestic Partnership prior to the legal advent of same-sex marriage in that state, the determination is less clear. Domestic partners have not always enjoyed the same benefits as marriage couples. In California, same sex couples who are not married and have children together face the same challenges as unmarried heterosexual parents, and frequently more difficult challenges in establishing parentage.

In the case of two unmarried female partners biologically having a child, the woman who did not give birth must file documents with the court asking for legal parental rights. In the case of two male partners, they would bear the burden of proving to the court that both intend to be the child’s parents. 

Again, the law on same-sex parentage is complex and assumes many different factors and facets from the timing of legality of marriage to when the child was born or adopted. In addition, the surrogate birth of a child for the purpose of giving to a same-sex couple adds an extra layer of complexity to the legal definition of paternity. Do speak with a Family Law expert like Leon F. Bennett who has decades of expertise in the laws and rights of same-sex couples when it comes to domestic partnerships, marriage, divorce, and child custody and support rights under California law.

Your Rights as a Legally Established Parent

So, you have legally filed documents establishing exactly who a child’s parents are. Now the following parental rights can be negotiated in the case of divorce:

  • Earning custody and visitation rights
  • Paying applicable child support and half of the uninsured health-care and child-care costs for the child. 

 In California, in many cases it is considered a criminal offense if a legal parent willfully fails to pay court-mandated child support.  

For help with the determination of parentage or paternity in your particular situation, contact a family law attorney who specializes in these practices like the top Woodland Hills family law firm of Leon F. Bennett, to help explain your rights and obtain the best possible results for, not only the parents, but more importantly the child or children as well. The ultimate goal is always to do what’s best for the children who require the finest support system with assurances that their lives are headed on the right path to emotional and physical health and well-being.

About the Leon F. Bennett Family Law Firm

With over 35 years of experience as a divorce attorney in woodland hills, the Family Law Firm of Leon F. Bennett and his seasoned legal team have helped families reach mutually agreeable decisions regarding matters of divorce, custody, support, and the many rights and agreements associated with family law services. We offer a free first-time consultation to qualified candidates.

We handle cases of child support, child custody and paternity in Southern California and the Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Riverside and Orange County areas. We represent clients in communities such as Woodland Hills, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Oak Park, Westlake Village, Malibu, Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park, Camarillo, Moorpark, Oxnard, Pacific Palisades, Ventura County, Simi Valley, Santa Clarita, Valencia, Northridge, Tarzana, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. Contact us today to help find a suitable family law solution with compassion and closure.