California laws state that, aside from adoption, a biological father can only be recognized as a legal parent if his name appears on the child’s birth certificate. If the father is present at the hospital when the birth certificate is signed, he can simply add his name alongside the mother’s. Otherwise, he will need to file a Declaration of Paternity to amend the birth certificate.
A Declaration of Paternity provides critical legal rights to both a father and his child. Without it, the child may not be able to receive an inheritance or insurance claim should the father die, for instance. The child may also be put up for adoption without the father ever receiving notice.
Most importantly, another person could present himself as the legal father, creating a contest for paternity. In these cases, a father who has signed a Declaration of Paternity will likely have more legal standing than someone who simply states “but I am the father, not him!”
Other countless issues surround acknowledgment of paternity in California where a Declaration of Paternity document can benefit. Let us explore them together.
Establishing Paternity in California Through Court Order
According to California Family Code §§ 7573:
“A completed voluntary declaration of paternity, as described in Section 7574, that has been filed with the Department of Child Support Services shall establish the paternity of a child and shall have the same force and effect as a judgment for paternity issued by a court of competent jurisdiction.”
In other words, a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (VDP) will take the place of a lengthy, expensive and complex trial. If an unmarried father wishes to exercise their parental rights, they can either affirm their paternity status through a court order or a simple form.
Waiting too long can make the VDP more difficult to file. The mother must sign the document in addition to the father. If the two are no longer on friendly terms, a court order may be the only way to confirm paternity.
Note that once a court order regarding paternity has been established, the ruling will be nearly impossible to contest. Fathers wishing to avoid others making a claim to a child’s parenthood through a paternity case can sometimes do so preemptively by filling out a VDP.
Presumptive Parenthood Status
Another complicating factor for fathers who want to claim their child lies in the presumptive status of certain parents. California laws assume an individual is a child’s legal father if he was married to the mother within 300 days before the child’s birth. If he later marries the mother and has an arrangement by written agreement or court order to support the child, he is also legally assumed to be the father.
Notably, a person may also be recognized as a presumptive parent if he “receives the child into his or her home and openly holds out the child as his or her natural child,” according to Cal. Family Code §§ 7601; 7611. Therefore, if a person has been acting as the child’s parent for an extended time and raising it as such, then a biological father may have an uphill battle to assert their claim unless they had signed a voluntary Declaration of Paternity beforehand.
This presumptive status has resulted in some interesting rulings, including one in which a child’s biological father, her biological mother and the mother’s long-time female spouse were all three declared potential legal parents. Even though the spouse could not have helped the mother conceive the child, her status as domestic partner entitled her to presumptive parental status.
Naturally, the case In re M.C. is a complex version of what is possible, but it illustrates the difficulty of establishing parenthood in court as opposed to through voluntary declaration.
Other Benefits of Acknowledging Paternity in California
- Children can receive social security or veteran’s benefits if the father dies or is disabled
- The child has a right to inherit the father’s property
- The child has claim to wrongful death damages or other legal compensation
- The father can sign documents on behalf of the child, such as releases and permission forms
- The child can be added to an insurance plan
- The father may have additional rights during legal proceedings, such as custody or civil action trials
Rescinding Paternity Status
Rescinding paternity status is only possible for 60 days after the birth certificate was signed or amended. Fathers also cannot rescind paternity within 60 days of a related trial over paternity, custody or similar family court matters. In some instances, the court may be willing to cancel a Declaration of Paternity on behalf of a father if he has a compelling, good faith reason to do so.
Fathers should, therefore, consider their choice of acknowledgment of paternity in California carefully since changing their mind later can be a difficult, if not impossible, task.
Legally Acknowledging Paternity in California with a Paternity Attorney
Although ideally establishing paternity can involve signing a single form, real life is not always that simple. Fathers must attend a Family Court Services mediation when determining custody between unmarried parents, for example.
Fathers that want to assert their rights either with or without a VDP can look to an experienced family law attorney for legal guidance and assistance. To start your case today, contact us for a free consultation at (888) 249-9301.