Child Support Process

Establish 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 or a declaration of paternity signed by both parents. The process should be started by both parents as soon as possible for the benefit of the child(ren).

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

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 Parent Paying Support (PPS), 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
  • Inheritance rights
  • 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.

Information that Helps Establish Paternity

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

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

Paternity Opportunity Program (POP)

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 and when signed by both parents, says the man is the legal father. Signing the form is voluntary and will legally establish the man as the child's father without having to go to court. Signing the form allows an unmarried father's name to be placed on his child's birth certificate and 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. The Department of Child Support Services can assist unmarried parents in the completion and filing of a Declaration of Paternity, if one had not been completed immediately following the birth of the child(ren).

Additional Information Regarding Paternity Establishment

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