There are numerous reasons for why you would want to prove the paternity of your child’s father. Not just for you – to seek child support – but also for your child. Being able to prove paternity can mean the difference between your child receiving legal right to death benefits such as Social Security or veteran’s benefits, or possible inheritance – in the event of the birth father’s death.
Paternity is defined as: the state or condition of being a father. This type of action arises when the parties, who were never legally married to each other, are the parents of a child. Either the mother or the father of the child may file the Petition to Establish Parental Relationship of a child. Once paternity is established, the court will make decisions on the issues of child custody, child support, and child visitation.
Below we go into specifics about the importance of establishing paternity – not just in cases of divorce – but for all other reasons, as well as how to establish paternity. We then will discuss parental rights, and the forms of child custody. When it comes to child custody cases, you might need to be able to prove paternity in order to receive custodial rights.
There are various other reasons for why a paternity test may be ordered, including the following:
A mother seeking child support compensation will need proof a certain man is the actual father of a child, especially if he denies it. A decision on paternity can be especially necessary when a mother is seeking and applying for state aid to raise her child. A majority of states refuse to offer child financial help unless a mother has already sought the help of child support payments from the child’s father.
Avoiding Child Support
If you are a man, and have been sought out for child support payments because of a child you may or may not have fathered, it’s important to know that most states have measures in place to track down fathers that cannot be located and who may be avoiding paying child support by making claims they are not the father. Once a man is located, a court will issue a paternity test to determine if the man is the father, and thus, needs to supply child support aid.
Helpful for Fathers
Paternity tests determine if a child is yours or not. If you are being held accountable for a child that is not yours, then a paternity test is a definitive way to determine if you need to make those payments or not. But you can not just refuse to make the payments. If you are seeking to avoid making payments you will need to take a court-approved and facilitated test in order to prove you are not the father of the child. If you are being forced to make payments and you are unsure of your paternity, a paternity test is the only way you will be able to legally say you do not need to make payments.
At-Home Paternity Tests
There are many claims about at-home paternity tests, but only tests taken in court-approved locations can be deemed as legally official. Results of home testing kits are not accepted in court. Paternity law requires that only an approved official, such as a laboratory employee, can collect DNA. Neither parent is allowed to handle it (as would usually be done with an at-home test) in order to prevent possible tampering.
Establishing Parental Rights
Because parents are often unmarried at the time of conception or birth of a child, a paternity case might need to be opened in order to establish paternal rights. These types of cases can be complex, so it might be in your best interest to consult an experienced attorney.
California Family Code section 7570
California Family Code section 7570 states “there is a compelling state interest in establishing paternity for all children.” This is because “establishing paternity is the first step toward a child support award.” Paternity is used as basis for child custody and visitation orders. Conclusive determination of the father and mother of a child are needed for: medical diagnosis, health insurance, social security, military benefits, and inheritance rights. The code states, “knowing one’s father is important to a child’s development.” Family court judges always have a child’s best interest in mind when determining rulings on child support and child custody and visitation cases.
California’s Procedure For Voluntary Paternity
California has an established procedure for establishing voluntary paternity. This procedure has helped ease the process of establishing paternity. Increased paternity establishment means more children have access to child support as well as other benefits that legally belong to them. This process also saves both parties, as well as the court, time and money when it comes to determining paternity and the legal aspects required of fathers.
California Family Code section 7571
Under California Family Code section 7571, the man the mother identifies as the father at the time of the birth has the opportunity to complete a voluntary declaration of paternity.
Once the declaration is signed by both parties (and witnessed), hospital staff forward the signed document to the Department of Child Support Service within twenty days of the date the declaration was signed. Generally, this completed and properly filed voluntary declaration of paternity establishes the paternity of a child. Should there be any legal issue, this signed document should have the same weight and effect as a legal paternity judgment.
In Brown’s case, because Riesling was declared as the father at the time of the child’s birth, there will need to be legal amendments made for Brown to be able to claim Royalty as his own. It is important that Brown be declared as a father to the child should Brown seek legal custody of the child.
This is why paternity is important to establish. Paternity must be established if you are seeking full custody.
Full child custody, also known as sole custody, means all legal parental rights are assigned to just one of the parents. There are two kinds of “sole” custody:
- sole physical custody – the child lives with the parent, and
- sole legal custody – the parent has a legal right to make decisions for the child.
Most family law courts award joint custody, because it has been found to be in the best interest of a child to be raised by both parents. Usually when a parent files for sole custody it is because they see the other parent as unfit to take care of the child. This can be for various reasons, including: inability to provide for child, abuse, or a history of abuse or addiction.
Filing for Full Custody
Seeking full custody can be difficult if you are unable to prove that the other parent is unfit. There are some steps you’ll want to take:
- Talk to an attorney. An attorney will be familiar with the laws regarding custody and how to advise you based on your specific case.
- Learn about what petition to file. An attorney can help with this, but if you are planning on working without one you can go to a local court or online to determine the paperwork you need to file. Each state has its own laws regarding child custody cases (which is why it’s advised to work with an attorney). Here are a few petitions that may apply:
- Petition to establish custody
- Petition to revise or update a petition that’s already in place
- Petition to establish paternity (if the paternity of the child is questioned you will also need to file a petition that mandates a paternity test be completed before the custody request is considered) and install custody
- Fill out all of the required paperwork and file the paperwork in court. If you are working with an attorney he or she will review everything before you file it in court. You will want to make sure you make copies for your files and for the other parent’s files. The court will keep the original. Once a petition has been filed you will receive a court or mediation date. Both parents are required to be in attendance. If an agreement cannot be made at that date, the case will need to go in front of a court.
Work with a Family Law Practice
Determining paternity and seeking child custody can be difficult. But an attorney will be able to help you through. If you decide to hire a lawyer to help with your child custody case, it’s important to choose one that will be a good fit for you and your situation. They can advise on co-parenting schedules and how to work out child custody and alimony agreements should you decide to co-parent. Working with an attorney will help you receive a fair agreement.