Paternity laws in California say that when a child is born to married parents or registered domestic partner parents, the law presumes both of them are the child’s parents. Both of their names go on the child’s birth certificate. However, when a child is born to unmarried parents, the biological mother is the legal parent and the other parent legally gains parental obligations, rights and duties when paternity has been established. There is no legal requirement of a significant relationship between the parents. One night stands as well as long term live-in relationships can result in a paternity case. The parents can even continue to live together during the entire paternity case and plan to continue living together in the future.

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Paternity can be established by either:

1. Voluntary Declaration of Paternity: Being listed as the other parent on the birth certificate, or by agreement later. Go to the California Court’s webpage for full instructions on how to properly complete the Voluntary Declaration without having to go to court.

2. Court order of Paternity: A judge will decide who the child’s other parent is.  It is common to also address issues of custody, visitation and support in the same court case. A Petition to Establish Paternity is the first document an alleged parent will receive. If you ignore it, the court can order that you are the parent because you are not challenging the other parent’s claim. If you don’t believe you are the parent, then you must file a Response and, in some cases, go through the DNA testing so the court can make an order that you are NOT the child’s parent. If you are determined to be the parent it is your legal obligation to support your child.


Either parent can file a Petition to Establish Paternity. A local child support agency that is providing services to the mother will also request a paternity determination. The judge can also make orders for child support, health insurance coverage for the child, physical and legal custody, visitation, who will pay court costs, for the DNA testing and the payment of either party’s reasonable attorney’s fees.

Contested Paternity and DNA testing: When paternity is contested, it is common to require DNA testing to determine the biological father. If the father refuses to cooperate then the judge can consider the refusal as evidence of paternity. After all, if he were not the father then why wouldn’t he cooperate?


When paternity is established each parent has (1) an equal responsibility to support the child, and (2) an equal right to custody of the child. Every parent has the opportunity to make a difference in their child’s life. One parent doesn’t have to raise the child all alone.


Establishing paternity can be especially beneficial for the child. It can provide financial support and health insurance for the child. The child may have a parent who wants to be involved in the child’s life but the other parent is preventing contact. Many men who didn’t realize they may be a “dad” until they are served with the Petition to Establish Paternity, often welcome the opportunity to be involved in raising their child.