When do I need to establish parentage in California?

Establishing parentage in California is essential if you wish to have the legal rights of a parent. The state assumes legal parentage in some circumstances, but unmarried spouses or disputed parentage cases can be complex.

California law applies similar parentage assumptions, requirements and definitions to opposite and same sex parents, and these do not require any biological relationship between parents and their children.

Assumption of parentage

The law assumes parentage without additional proceedings in a few circumstances. If you and the other parent were married or in a registered domestic partnership at the time of the child’s conception or birth, the state will assume that you are the legal parent without the need for further action. This condition may apply even if a court later determines that the marriage was not legally valid.

Similarly, if you married the other parent after the child’s birth, California will recognize you as a legal parent as long as you either put your name on the birth certificate or have agreed to financially support the child. The law may assume parentage without any biological relationship if you treated the child as your own from a young age.

Establishment of parentage

For those who do not meet these conditions, you still may be able to establish legal parentage in California. The most common method to establish parentage in the state is to sign a declaration of parentage with the other spouse and file it with the Department of Child Support Services. You will need to sign this form in the presence of a notary public or in the hospital or approved public agency.

If you are not able to get the other parent to sign this voluntary declaration for any reason, you may still be able to get a court order establishing your parentage. You will need to bring your claim before a judge, and he or she will make a ruling concerning your rights. The court will base the ruling on your relationship to the child, your emotional and financial involvement in the child’s conception, birth and upbringing and any other factors the court deems relevant.

Rights and responsibilities of parentage

A court may not consider you in custody, visitation, child support, name changes, insurance or other decisions without the establishment of parentage. While a DNA test may help a judge rule on your rights as a parent, you will still need a court order to back it up in California. A DNA test on its own is not sufficient to qualify you for parental rights.

In some cases, California recognizes more than two people as legal parents. For example, stepparents who have taken a primary role in a child’s life may share legal parentage with the biological parents.

While establishing parentage protects your rights, it also brings responsibilities. Courts obligate all parents in California to take financial responsibility for their children and to contribute to their upbringing. In fact, it is a crime in California for a parent to shirk financial responsibility for his or her legal child.