Establishing Parentage

What is parentage?

Simply stated, parentage means the legal parents of a child.

When a married couple has a child conceived during the marriage, parentage does not need to be established; the law automatically presumes the husband is the child’s legal father and the wife is the child's legal mother. The grounds for contesting this marital presumption are very limited and you should seek legal advice if there are issues. When an unmarried woman has a child, parentage needs to be established to provide the child with the same legal rights as a child born to married parents. Also, the court cannot order child support or determine custody or visitation until parentage has been legally established.

What are good reasons to establish parentage?

When a custodial parent is receiving public assistance for a child that does not have parentage established, the local child support agency is required to establish parentage for that child, thus ensuring the same legal rights as a child born to married parents. Those rights include:

  • Support from both parents
  • Legal documentation of the parent’s relationship to the child
  • Access to family medical history to learn of diseases, illnesses, birth defects, and other health problems that can be passed on through heredity
  • Medical and life insurance from either parent, if available
  • Inheritance rights
  • Social Security and veterans benefits, if available

How is parentage established?

Parentage Opportunity Program:

The Parentage Opportunity Program (POP) is a fast, easy and free way to establish parentage and has the same effect as a court order in establishing parentage for a child.  Through this program, unmarried parents may establish parentage by completing and signing a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage at the hospital when the child is born or at the local child support agency after the child is born. Both parents must complete and sign the form together in the presence of a hospital employee or child support employee who will sign the form as a witness.  Once both parents have completed and signed the form it is filed with the California State DCSS and parentage is established after a sixty day waiting period. For more information about the Parentage Opportunity Program (POP) including Frequently Asked Questions and recession information call (866)249-0773, contact your Local Child Support Agency or visit www.childsupport.ca.gov and follow the POP links.

Genetic Testing:

Genetic testing (DNA) is very accurate and is performed at no cost to you. In the majority of cases where there is doubt about parentage and a legal action has been filed by the DCSS to establish parentage, the parents may request biological proof of parentage before the parentage is determined by a court, legally.  This is accomplished by requesting genetic testing. The genetic test will either exclude a man who is not the biological father of the child or establish with greater than 99% accuracy that the alleged father is in fact the biological father. DNA samples are obtained at the local child support agency or at a facility located near the case participant’s area of residence when travel to the local agency is impractical due to distance.  In most cases a sample is obtained from the mother, the alleged father and the child for whom parentage is in question. Gathering samples is a painless process of swabbing the inside of the mouth of each case participant with a cotton swab and sending the samples to the genetic testing laboratory. In instances where parentage issues must be resolved, such as public assistance cases, and case participants do not consent to genetic testing, the court can order the parties to submit to the testing.

By Legal Agreement:

Both parents may voluntarily agree to a child’s parentage and in cases where public assistance is not involved, they may agree to a mutually acceptable amount of monthly child support to be paid by the noncustodial parent to the custodial parent.  In cases involving public assistance both parents may agree to the child’s parentage and they may agree to an amount of child support payable by the noncustodial parent based on state child support guidelines.  The legal agreement is accomplished by each parent signing a stipulation establishing parentage and setting a child support amount that is submitted to the court for approval.  A court appearance is not necessary when a stipulation is processed.

By Court Order:

In cases where cooperation from one or both parents is an issue, parentage can be established in court with or without that cooperation. This would require the mother to answer questions about her intimate relationship with the alleged father and to complete a Parentage Questionnaire with details of that relationship and specifically identifying the alleged father by name.  If the alleged father fails to answer a legal complaint that he is the father the court will issue a default judgment naming the alleged father as the father. In cases where the alleged father answers the legal complaint that he is the father by denying parentage and requesting genetic testing, DCSS will proceed with the genetic testing and stay further action pending test results. If the genetic testing confirms the alleged father is the biological father DCSS will proceed with the process of obtaining a parentage judgment.  If genetic testing confirms the alleged father is not the biological father of the child all legal actions against the alleged father will be dismissed and no further action will be taken against that individual.