Father holds daughter by the hand. Shooting close-up. In the background, out of focus is a country road. Support on the way concept

Establishing Parental Relationships Under California Law

Family structures can be complex — and a child’s parents may not always be legally married. In California, a parent has the legal right to be recognized as the parent of their child and have a relationship with them, regardless of their marital status. Legally establishing parentage may be necessary when a child’s parents are not married to ensure the child is provided with the physical, emotional, and financial support to which they are entitled. This can be done through the courts with a Petition to Determine Parental Relationship.    

What is a Petition to Determine Parental Relationship?

A Petition to Determine Parental Relationship (sometimes also referred to as a paternity petition) can be used to legally confirm the parentage of a minor child when the parents were not married or registered domestic partners when the child is born. Paternity must be established before child custody and support orders can be issued. However, custody, support, and visitation orders can be requested as part of a case that establishes parentage.

When Does a Petition to Determine Parental Relationship Need to Be Filed?

There are two types of parental relationships in California — natural parentage and presumed parentage. A natural parent is one who gave birth to the child or legally adopted them. A presumed parent is one who has the opportunity to be established as a child’s legal parent, but the matter has not yet been adjudicated by the court.

Importantly, a Petition to Determine Parental Relationship is used in the following situations:

  • The couple was not married at the time their child was born
  • The biological father was not listed on the child’s birth certificate
  • There is no child support judgment establishing parentage
  • The father did not sign a Declaration of Paternity when the child was born

Under California law, when a child’s mother is married and living with her husband at the time the child is born, it is assumed that the husband is the child’s biological father. In the event the mother’s husband is not the child’s father or has reason to believe he is not the father, paternity must be contested within two years of the birth of the child.

Either parent can file a petition requesting a judgment establishing parentage. Once the parental relationship has been established, the parent has all the legal rights and responsibilities that come with raising a child. Establishing parentage is also crucial for the child so that they can have the same privileges as a child whose parents were married at the time they were born.

A parentage case does not need to be filed in court if parents of the child are unmarried and the father signed a Declaration of Paternity or parentage. In addition, it isn’t necessary to file a parentage action when there is a post judgment Department of Child Support (DCSS) case and the parents are unmarried, since a finding of parentage is made at the time the DCSS judgment is issued.

What are the Steps to Legally Establish a Parental Relationship?

To establish parentage with the court, a case must be commenced by filing a petition requesting that the court determine the child’s legal parents. The petition also typically contains a request for sole legal and physical custody. But in order to start a parentage action, it’s important to understand that there are certain residency requirements — the child must have been a resident of California for at least six months and reside in the county in which you will be filing the petition.

Once the papers have been filed with the court, the next step is serving the other party. Any adult over the age of 18 who is not a party to the action can serve the paperwork in the case. Once service has been effectuated, proof of service must be filed with the court. If you are the party who has been served the papers, you will need to file a response with the court. This allows you to present your side of the story to the judge.

In contested cases, a hearing might be necessary. First, you may be required to attend a case management conference to discuss your case with a judicial officer. At this time, both parties can reach a resolution with the help of a family law facilitator — if an agreement is reached, it can be submitted to the judge to sign and enter as an order. If the parties are unable to reach a settlement, the judge will proceed to determine the outcome by evaluating evidence and testimony presented by the parties.

Contact an Experienced Fresno Family Law Attorney

The legal process of establishing a parental relationship can be confusing. It’s critical to have a knowledgeable family law attorney by your side to assist you with navigating the process. The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has been helping clients throughout Fresno and the surrounding area in their divorce and family law matters for more than 20 years. To schedule a no obligation consultation to discuss your legal issue, call (559) 272-8359.

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