Paternity or parentage cases are when the Court makes orders stating who a minor child’s legal parents are. There is a basic assumption that if the parents are married when the minor child is born, the parents are the child’s legal parents. Paternity issues arise when the parents of the minor child are not married when the child is born, or for same-sex couples when the non-biological parent wishes to establish their parental rights legally.
There are multiple reasons why you would want to be considered the legal parent of your child. According to www.courts.ca.gov, the legal rights and privileges you would have as the legal parent are:
Legal documentation identifying both parents
Having the names of both parents on the child’s birth certificate
Access to family medical records and history
The child’s right to inherit from either parent
The child’s right to receive social security and veteran’s benefits, if available.
There are two main ways to establish paternity in California: (1) Sign a voluntary Declaration of Paternity or (2) Get a court order.
This is fairly straight forward. You can request a Declaration of Paternity form to be sent to you by mail to by e-mailing the California Department of Child Support Services Paternity Opportunity Program (POP) at email@example.com. Both parents must sign the Declaration at one of the designated public agencies or witnessed by a notary public. Once signed, the form must be filed with the California Department of Child Support Services POP. A filed Declaration of Paternity has the same effect as receiving a court order establishing paternity without having to go to court.
Although this method is more complicated than signing and filing a voluntary Declaration for Paternity, it is often necessary when one parent will not cooperate. A paternity case should be filed in the county where the child resides. If you do not know where your child lives, you would file in the county where you live. The Court can decide, at a later time, whether another county or even another state has the appropriate jurisdiction to hear the case.
The three forms required to begin the process are (1) FL-200 (Petitioner to Establish Parental Relationship, (2) FL-210 (Summons) and (3) FL-105 (Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act). It is recommended to make a minimum of two copies of your forms, the original copy goes to the Court, one copy for your records, and the last copy will be for your child’s other parent. Upon completion, the forms need to be filed with the Court. After the clerk has received and stamped all forms as “Filed” the other parent can then be served.
In order to properly serve the other parent, you cannot personally serve them. The person who serves the other parent must be 18 years or older who is NOT a party to your paternity action. In addition to the forms filed with the Court, the other party must also be served with a blank FL-220 (Response to Petition to Establish Paternal relationship) and a blank FL-105. After personal service has been completed, the person who served the other parent must fill out FL-115 (Proof of Service of Summons) and give it to you so you can file it with the Court. Depending on whether the other party files a response, the next steps can vary.
While the basic act of establishing paternity seems easy, such proceedings can become complicated very quickly. Beyond the initial determination of parentage, additional concerns for child support or child custody and visitation can arise. Having an experienced Family Law Attorney by your side can assist you in navigating your paternity case, especially if the other parent is not cooperating or additional concerns exist.