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Paternity Suits (Parentage Actions)

A paternity suit, also called a parentage action, is a lawsuit, filed by a child’s mother, a child’s alleged or presumed father, or a child support court lawyer in order to legally determine whether or not an alleged or presumed father is the child’s biological father and/or the child’s legal father.

Note: A biological father is not necessarily a child’s legal father, and vice versa. A legal father is the father who is legally responsible for, and has legal rights to, a child, regardless of whether or not he is the child's biological father.

Contrary to common belief, placing a man's name on a child's birth certificate as the child’s father does not prove that the man is the child’s biological or legal father. Also, contrary to popular belief, a blood test is not the only way to prove, or disprove, biological paternity.

Alleged and Presumed Paternity

If a husband and wife have a child during marriage, the child is presumed to be the biological child of the husband. A presumption of fatherhood may also exist where the father welcomes a newborn child into his home and openly holds the child out as his own child even though he was not married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth. The legal presumption of paternity may be rebutted by the husband, the mother, child support court, or a man other than the husband (apparent father), in a paternity suit.

Note: A father who is not married to the mother of his child at the time of the child’s birth must establish paternity or he may lose rights to his child to another man who makes effort to establish paternity.

How to Establish Paternity

There are two ways a person can establish legal paternity (fatherhood): 1) A voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, also called voluntary declaration of paternity, or 2) A paternity suit.

A voluntary declaration of paternity may be signed by the alleged father (unmarried) at the hospital following a child’s birth, or any time thereafter in front of a notary public or Department of Child Support Services Lawyer. A voluntary acknowledgement of paternity must be filed in child support court in order to be of legal effect. Thereafter, the alleged father's name is included on the child's birth certificate as the child’s legal father.

Note: Once a voluntary declaration of paternity is signed and filed it may be difficult, if not impossible, to contest. This is true even if a DNA test later proves that the man who signed the voluntary declaration of paternity is not the child’s biological father.

A voluntary declaration may be rescinded within sixty days from the date of signing unless the Department of Child Support Services has relied on the declaration of paternity to establish child support.

The necessary forms required to establish or contest paternity may be found at paternity forms. Please keep in mind that these paternity forms do not provide information on how to legally present or defend a paternity suit and other important paternity law and procedure requirements. If you are an alleged, apparent, or presumed father, who is attempting to establish or defend a paternity suit, you should seek the advice of our experienced family law attorneys without delay.

Note: Delay in establishing or defending paternity suits may adversely affect your rights. Also, willful failure to obey a court order to take a DNA test may lead to civil and criminal penalties (See Contempt of Court).

Legal Benefits of Paternity

As stated, a legal father has rights to, and is responsible for, his minor children. A father’s rights includes the right to receive child support from the mother, the right to care for and raise his child (child custody), the right to visit and travel with his child (child visitation), the right to receive relevant medical information about the child’s mother, the right to challenge an adoption of his child by a third party, the right to receive wrongful death benefits, the right to add his child to his health insurance, and more (See Father’s Rights).

Note: Sometimes a man files a paternity suit because he wants to establish that he is not the legal father, even if he is in fact the biological father or the presumed father of the child.

For the mother, once paternity is established, she has the right to receive child support from the legal father and the right to receive the biological father’s medical history.

For the child, once paternity is established, he or she has the right to receive financial, emotional, and physical support from his or her father. Also, a child has the right to receive wrongful death and social security benefits from his or her legal father (if available).

Challenging Paternity

A declaration, or presumption of paternity, may be challenged (contested) in court up to two years after the signing of the declaration of paternity or up to two years after a presumption of parenthood attaches. Challenging paternity is different than rescinding a voluntary declaration of paternity (see above).

Paternity may be challenged (contested) in several way, including the presentation of evidence that proves the following:

  • Improper DNA test procedures or analysis
  • Paternity Fraud (use of another man’s DNA)
  • Proof of infertility or sterility
  • Fraud or duress that induced a man to sign paternity declaration
  • Proof of mother’s infidelity in marriage before the child’s birth

If DNA test results are positive for paternity, the father may contest the results and request a second DNA test.

Note: The court does not except private DNA test results. In fact, the court will not receive DNA test results unless the court ordered the DNA test in the first place. Information on where to take a DNA test is given by the judge at the time the judge orders the DNA test.

Equitable Father’s Rights

If an apparent father has a close relationship to a child the court may grant equitable father’s rights (child custody and/or child visitation) to the apparent father. This is true even if the apparent father’s paternity was successfully challenged by the biological father. This is most common in situations where an apparent father is believed to be the biological father and he has already made an emotional connection to the child.

Pre-Birth Father's Rights

A paternity suit may be filed before a child is born so that the father may begin to establish a parental relationship with a child at the earliest opportunity or to ensure his father's rights are secure before the mother attempts to give her baby up for adoption. However, a successful paternity action does not give the father the right to interfere with the mother's health care choices for giving birth and the father does not have a right to interfere with a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy (abortion) when the mother otherwise has the legal right to make that choice under California law.

To learn more about paternity suits, or to speak to an experienced family law attorney about paternity suits, father’s rights, child custody, child support, contempt of court, legal separation, or divorce, contact our family law attorneys today for a free and discreet consultation. Call today!


Updated July 9, 2021

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Paternity Suits in California. Divorce & Family Law Lawyers Explain the Law.

Paternity Legal Forms

  • FL-105 UCCJEA (Child Info)
  • FL-200 Petition to Establish Paternity
  • FL-210 Summons To Paternity Court
  • FL-220 Response to Petition
  • FL-230 Declaration for Default
  • FL-235 Waiver of Rights Info
  • FL-240 Stipulation of Paternity
  • FL-260 Child Custody & Support
  • FL-270 Response to Custody Request
  • FL-272 Set Aside Motion
  • FL-273 Declaration to Set Aside
  • FL-274 Info on Set Aside Motion 
  • FL-276 Response to Set Aside Motion
  • FL-280 Withdraw Voluntary Paternity
  • FL-281 Info on Withdrawal of VP
  • FL-285 Response to Withdrawal of VP

Important: Other legal may be needed depending on the circumstances of your case. For example, if there is domestic violence alleged in your case you may need the forms associated with domestic violence protection and prevention (See Doemstic Violence). For information on how to fill out the proper legal forms and for further information on paternity suits, contact our divorce and family law attorneys today for a free consultation.

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