How to Establish Paternity in California


Establishing paternity is an important action for parents who are unmarried. Paternity enables a child to have access to their legal father’s rights and benefits, including court orders for child support and custody, for instance. In today’s blog, we will go over the step-by-step process for establishing paternity in California.

Two Ways to Establish Paternity in California

There are two main ways to establish paternity, also called “parentage,” in California for unmarried parents – voluntary establishment or involuntary establishment. Voluntary establishment of paternity involves signing a voluntary declaration of parentage or paternity, and involuntary establishment involves getting a court order.

Voluntary Declaration of Parentage

A voluntary declaration of parentage is a California governmental form that, when signed by both parents, establishes them as the legal parents of the child. The form must be signed voluntarily by each parent to be valid. Upon signing, the form must be filed with the California Department of Child Support Services Parentage Opportunity Program to be effective. Once effective, the judge may make orders for custody, visitation, and support for both legal parents.

This declaration is often signed at the hospital when the child is born, during which both parents’ names will go on the child’s birth certificate, and the birth mother will not need to go to court to prove who the other parent is. If the declaration is signed later, a new birth certificate will be issued afterwards with the other parent’s name.

Note that the declaration of parentage must be signed at one of the following public agencies if not the hospital, or it must be witnessed by a notary public:

  • Local child support agency
  • Registrar of births
  • Family law facilitator at your local superior court
  • Welfare office

Signing a declaration of parentage means the parent relinquishes their rights to:

  • a trial in court to decide the issue of parentage;
  • genetic (DNA) testing;
  • notice of any hearing on the issue of parentage;
  • the opportunity to present their case to the court, including the right to present and cross-examine witnesses; and
  • a lawyer to represent them.

Be aware that it can be difficult to undo the establishment of parentage, even if later genetic testing shows that the parent is not actually the biological parent of the child.

If you or the other parent change your mind after signing the declaration of paternity, you must complete a California Voluntary Declaration of Parentage (VDOP) Rescission to rescind (cancel) the declaration of parentage. The rescission form must be filed with the Department of Child Support Services within 60 days from the date of signing the declaration of parentage. Only one parent needs to sign and file the form, but the other parent must be formally notified by certified mail with a return receipt requested.

Generally, to cancel a declaration of parentage or paternity, the request must be made within 2 years of the date the declaration was filed with the Department of Child Support Services, and one of the parents must prove they signed the declaration because of fraud, mistake, or coercion.

Involuntary Establishment of Parentage

There are a couple of ways you can seek the involuntary establishment of parentage through a court order. You can either petition for one on your own, or you can ask your local child support agency for help. To petition for a paternity case on your own, you will need to fill out, serve, and file several court forms in the county your child lives:

  • Petition to Establish Parental Relationship
  • Summons (Uniform Parentage — Petition for Custody and Support)
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)
  • Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Application Attachment (if you are also looking for a custody order)
  • Income and Expense Declaration or Financial Statement (Simplified) if you are also seeking a child support order)

Either parent can also bring forward a parentage case with the help of a local child support agency free of charge. This procedure is specifically for parents seeking a child support order. To begin the process, you should call your local agency and ask for an appointment to open a case for paternity and support. You can open a case even when the mother is only pregnant, and a genetic test can be ordered after the child is born. Note that your local child support agency will automatically open a case for you if you are on welfare for the children.

As unmarried parents, it is important to establish both your legal relationships with your child in order to have full rights and access to your child as parents. Child custody and support orders can only be made for the legal parents of the child, so you may seek to voluntarily declare parentage or petition for a case to confirm the other’s parentage. In any case, an experienced lawyer can better help you through the paternity process. From helping you file the appropriate forms to pursuing genetic testing, The Neshanian Law Firm, Inc. can guide you through the paternity establishment process in California.

Contact our team online for a free 15-minute consultation to discuss your legal options.