Using the courts to establish the identity of a child’s biological father may seem to be a relic from the past when women used the procedure to force the child’s father into a marriage. At the present time, however, a child’s biological father has a legal obligation to share the expenses of raising his children. Thus, determining the identity of a child’s biological father can have far reaching consequences for the child, the mother, and the father. Understanding the procedure is a necessary first step to determining a child’s parentage.
Parentage, not paternity
The first step is to master the terminology. A court proceeding to establish the identity of a child’s biological father is now called a “parentage case.” The term “paternity case” is still used, but most court documents use the term “parentage.”
If a child is born to an unmarried couple, the man and woman commonly accept the baby as theirs. Babies born to married couples are presumed to be the child of the couple. A parentage proceeding can be used to disprove this presumption, but such proceedings are rare.
A parentage proceeding is required when the putative father denies that he is the child’s father. Some men make this assertion because it is true; some make the assertion because they do not want legal responsibility for the expenses of child rearing.
Involving the courts
A mother who wants the man whom she believes to be the father of her baby to be legally declared to be the father has two choices. She can ask the putative father to sign a “voluntary declaration of parentage.” If the man agrees, the form bearing the signatures of both parents is filed with the court and the matter is closed. If the man disagrees, a court order is required.
A father who denies parentage is entitled to request a genetic testing examination in which the father’s DNA is compared with the child’s DNA. These tests have become so reliable that a positive result is usually accepted as conclusive. The test is usually performed by an independent laboratory. The results are delivered to the court, and the judge enters an order based on the results of the test. If the DNA of the man and the child are sufficiently similar, the court will enter an order stating that the child is the child of the man and the woman. If the test is negative, the court will enter an order denying a finding of parentage.
The laws concerning parentage in California are complex. Anyone who is either considering attempting to establish parentage or who wishes to deny parentage may benefit from consulting an experienced family law attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer can evaluate the facts and provide helpful advice on how to proceed.