What is Paternity?
Paternity means fatherhood. Establishing paternity is the legal process of determining the biological father of a child. When parents are married, in most cases, paternity is established without legal action. If parents are unmarried, paternity establishment requires a court order. The process should be started by both parents as soon as possible for the benefit of the child or children.
Until paternity is established, the father does not have the legal rights or responsibilities of a parent. Establishing paternity is necessary before custody, visitation and child support may be ordered by the court. (Note: custody and visitation issues are handled separately from child support.) A permanent child support order cannot be established for a child until either the alleged father admits paternity or it is proven that he is the father. If the man does not admit that he is the father, the court may order the mother, child and alleged father to provide a saliva sample for genetic testing.
Benefiting from Paternity Establishment
|Words to Know|
|Paternity – The legal establishment of fatherhood for a child.
Genetic testing - Scientific analyses of inherited factors of mother, child and alleged father which can disprove or help prove that a man is the biological father of the child.
Alleged Father -
A man who has been named as the father of a child born out of wedlock, but is not yet legally determined as the child’s father.
Declaration of Paternity -A document signed by both parents stating that they are a child’s biological parents. Filing this document with the State establishes the man as the child’s legal father.
If a father becomes involved with his child from the beginning of the child's life, he is more likely to continue to care for the child as he or she grows, both financially and emotionally. Establishing paternity is an important first step in obtaining child support. In addition to providing the basis for obtaining support from the non-custodial parent, establishing paternity gives a child born to unmarried parents the legal rights and privileges of a child born within a marriage. Those rights and privileges may include:
Support from both parents.
Legal documentation of who his or her parents are.
Access to family medical records. Many diseases, illnesses, birth defects and other health problems are passed to children by their parents.
Medical and life insurance coverage from either parent, if available.
Social Security and Veteran’s Benefits, if available.
The emotional benefits of knowing who both parents are.
How Paternity is Established
Paternity is established in court and can be done with or without the father's assistance. In the process of establishing paternity, the mother may be asked some questions about her intimate relationship with the father. These questions may be avoided if the alleged father appears at the Department of Child Support Services for an interview, admits paternity and cooperates in the establishment of paternity. Also, if the alleged father agrees he is the father, he can sign a Declaration of Paternity form stating he is the father.
If the alleged father will not cooperate, the Department of Child Support Services may establish paternity without the father's assistance. If the alleged father fails to answer a legal complaint that he is the father, the court can name him the father by default. Or, if the alleged father disagrees with or contests the claim that he is the father, paternity will be determined after a court-ordered genetic test has been administered.
Paternity Opportunity Program
POP is a fast, free, and easy way to establish paternity. Through POP, unmarried parents may establish paternity by completing and signing a Declaration of Paternity at the hospital when the baby is born. Once both parents complete and sign the form, the hospital files the form with the California State DCSS, and paternity is established.
For more information call POP at
Unmarried new parents may sign a paternity form at the hospital immediately following the birth of their child. This form is called a Declaration of Paternity. Signing this form will make the process of legally establishing paternity easier and faster in most cases. A Declaration of Paternity may also be signed by parents after they leave the hospital.
In an effort to create a legal "link" between unmarried fathers and their children, the California Department of Social Services joined other states, in a partnership with licensed hospitals and clinics with birthing facilities, to establish the Paternity Opportunity Program (POP). This voluntary in-hospital paternity acknowledgment program, implemented in January of 1995, involves approximately 360 of California's licensed hospitals and clinics. The program has since been expanded to prenatal clinics, county welfare offices, local vital records offices, and courts.
As a result of federal welfare reform legislation effective January 1st, 1997, if the parents of a child are not legally married, the father’s name will NOT be added to the birth certificate unless they:
1. Sign a Declaration of Paternity in the hospital,
2. Sign the form later or legally establish paternity through the courts and pay a fee to amend the birth certificate.
Signing a Paternity Declaration
A signed Declaration of Paternity states that the man who has signed it is the father. It has the same effect as a court order establishing paternity for the child. If the child does not live with you, and a court action is filed, you may be ordered by the court to pay child support. A court action must be filed to deal with the issues of custody, visitation or child support.
You have the right to a trial in court to decide the issue of paternity; to receive notice on any hearing on the issue of paternity; to have the opportunity to present your case to the court, including the right to present and cross examine witnesses; to have an attorney represent you; or to have an attorney appointed to represent you if you cannot afford one in an action filed by the Department of Child Support Services. By signing this declaration, you are, by your choice, giving up all of these rights.
If either of you later change your mind about signing the form, you must complete a form to rescind or cancel the Declaration of Paternity and file it with the California Department of Child Support Services within 60 days from the date you sign this form. You can get a rescission form by contacting our office. For more information, view How Parents Can Rescind or Cancel a Filed Declaration of Paternity on the California Department of Child Support Services web site.
This form may be challenged in court only in the first two years after the child's birth, by using blood and genetic tests that prove the man is not the biological father. It also may be overturned if the father or mother is able to prove that she/he signed the form because of fraud, duress, or material mistake of fact.
If either or both of you are under the age of 18, a Declaration of Paternity will not establish paternity until 60 days after both of you are age 18 or are emancipated. If you wish to legally establish paternity before both of you become adults, you should consult an attorney or contact our office.
The Declaration of Paternity is a legal document that will establish paternity. You do not have to complete or sign this form. If any part of this form does not make sense to you, contact our office or a lawyer before signing the form.
Sometimes a parent may want biological proof of paternity before a man is named the legal father. In that case, DCSS or either parent can request a genetic test. The test will exclude a man who is not the biological father of the child or it can show with greater than 99% accuracy that a man is the father. The Department offers genetic testing on site.
If there is a dispute about paternity and the parties do not consent to genetic testing, the court can order the parties to submit to testing.
Establishing Paternity by Legal Agreement
Both parents may agree (stipulate) to a child’s paternity and arrange for child support payments. The stipulation may also include child custody and visitation rights. The Department can explain how to do this without going to court, but the agreement must be approved by the court.
For more information about the establishment of paternity or child support, please contact us at 1-866-901-3212 (toll-free).