Child Support Process

Establish Parentage

Establishing parentage is the legal process of determining the legal parent of a child. When parents are married, in most cases, parentage is established without legal action. If parents are unmarried, parentage establishment requires a court order or a declaration of parentage signed by both parents. The process should be started by both parents as soon as possible for the benefit of the child(ren).

Until parentage is established, the other parent does not have the legal rights or responsibilities of a parent. Establishing parentage 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 parent admits parentage or it is proven that they are the other parent. If the person does not admit that they are the other parent, the court may order the birth parent, child and alleged other parent to provide a saliva sample for genetic testing.

Benefiting from Parentage Establishment

If a parent becomes involved with their child from the beginning of the child's life, they are more likely to continue to care for the child as they grow, both financially and emotionally.

Establishing parentage is an important first step in obtaining child support. In addition to providing the basis for obtaining support from the Parent Paying Support (PPS), establishing parentage 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 their 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
  • Inheritance rights
  • Social Security and Veteran's benefits, if available
  • The emotional benefits of knowing who both parents are

How Parentage is Established

Parentage is established in court and can be done with or without the other parent’s assistance. In the process of establishing parentage, the birth parent may be asked some questions about their intimate relationship with the other parent. These questions may be avoided if the alleged other parent appears at the Department of Child Support Services for an interview, admits parentage and cooperates in the establishment of parentage. Also, if the alleged other parent agrees they are the parent, they can sign a Declaration of Parentage form stating they are the other parent.

If the alleged other parent will not cooperate, the Department of Child Support Services may establish parentage without the other parent's assistance. If the alleged other parent fails to answer a legal complaint that they are the parent, the court can name them the parent by default. Or, if the alleged other parent disagrees with or contests the claim that they are the parent, parentage will be determined after a court-ordered genetic test has been administered.

Information that Helps Establish Parentage

The Department of Child Support Services needs as much information as possible about the alleged other parent including:

  • Facts about the birth parent's relationship with other parent, their pregnancy and the child's birth
  • Whether or not the alleged other parent ever provided any money for the child
  • Whether or not the alleged other parent ever admitted, in any way, that the child was theirs (For example, through letters or gifts)
  • A picture of the alleged other parent with the child, if available
  • Any information from others who could confirm the birth parent and alleged other parent's relationship
  • Other Parent’s home and employer or business addresses
  • Names and addresses of other parent’s previous employers
  • Whether or not the child was conceived in California, and if the child ever lived in California

Parentage Opportunity Program (POP)

Unmarried new parents may sign a parentage form at the hospital immediately following the birth of their child. This form is called a Declaration of Parentage and when signed by both parents, says the other party is the legal parent. Signing the form is voluntary and will legally establish the person as the child's parent without having to go to court. Signing the form allows an unmarried parent's name to be placed on the child's birth certificate and will make the process of legally establishing parentage easier and faster in most cases. A Declaration of Parentage may also be signed by parents after they leave the hospital. The Department of Child Support Services can assist unmarried parents in the completion and filing of a Declaration of Parentage, if one had not been completed immediately following the birth of the child(ren).

Additional Information Regarding Parentage Establishment

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