Establishing Paternity in California

In a key shift over last few decades, more and more children are being born to unmarried parents: According to statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that figure is just over 40 percent of all children born in the US. The trend makes paternity an all-important legal issue for a number of reasons, perhaps the most critical of which is that determining parentage is necessary before a court will make a decision on custody, visitation, or child support. There are three ways to establish paternity in California:

  1. Presumption of Paternity in Marriage: There are usually few disputes about the first parentage method, as a child born to married parents is presumed to be the offspring of the spouses for legal purposes. In addition, since January 1, 2005, registered domestic partners are the presumed legal parents of a child born to the partnership. However, one spouse may contest the legal presumption of paternity if he or she believes that extra-marital relationships are involved.
  2. Voluntary Declaration of Paternity: When both parents voluntarily sign a Declaration of Paternity, California law recognizes the two individuals as the child’s legal parents. The document has the same effect as a court order, without actually going to court; however, it must still be filed with the Department of Child Support Services to be effective. As long as parents sign the Declaration of Paternity of their own free will, it can be extremely difficult to overcome parentage.
  3. Court Order: Generally, a court will be involved with parentage issues if one parent wants to establish paternity for another individual who does not believe he or she is a parent. The judge will require genetic testing of the mother, father, and child to make a determination. There are specific parameters for such testing, so an “at-home” test or private service may not be acceptable for a court. However, if the California Department of Child Support Services orders DNA screening, there is usually no charge to either parent.

Trust a Skilled California Parentage Attorney for Paternity Issues


These are the basic rules regarding paternity in California, but more complicated issues arise; with certain relationships, there can even be more than two legal parents. If you have questions and want to understand how the law applies in your case, please contact the Law Office of Charles D. Stark. We handle all types of family law matters, serving clients in Santa Rosa, CA and throughout Sonoma County.

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