In paternity cases in California, a family court judge determines who a child’s father is. If the parents are legally married when a child is born, no paternity determination is needed. But when the parents have not married, a child’s father may need to be identified for a number of reasons.

How is that identification decided? Can a Walnut Creek paternity attorney help?

If you are a father, what steps do you have to take to prove that your child is in fact your child? If you are the mother, can you have a family court compel the father to take a DNA test? Do the courts accept the results of at-home DNA tests?

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW ABOUT FAMILY LAW?

The first thing to know about family law cases in this state is that you will need to be advised and represented – in a paternity case or any other matter of family law – by an experienced family law attorney. You’ll need to speak with that attorney as early as possible.

Under California law, when a child’s parents are not married, establishing legal paternity requires having the father sign an official Declaration of Paternity or obtaining a court order that identifies the child’s legal father.

Even if someone can prove that he is a child’s biological father, if there was no marriage, the biological father still has no legal responsibilities or rights regarding the child unless a Declaration of Paternity has been signed or a paternity order has been issued by the court.

Legal paternity has to be established before a California family court will issue a custody, visitation, or child support order, although a request for custody, visitation privileges, or child support may accompany the request for a paternity order.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF LEGALLY ESTABLISHING PATERNITY?

When paternity is established, the father has all of the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent. The father may request custody and visitation privileges and may be ordered to make (or in some cases receive) child support payments.

After a father’s legal paternity has been established, the state of California obligates that father to contribute to the child’s financial support. It is against the law in this state for either parent to fail to support his or her child financially.

If you are a parent who needs child support payments, if you are not or were not married to the child’s father, and if the child’s father will not make the payments voluntarily, you may need to ask the court to establish paternity before you will be able to request child support payments.

As mentioned above, there are two ways that paternity may be established when a child’s parents are not married: either by the father voluntarily signing a Declaration of Paternity, or by obtaining a court order with the help of a California family lawyer.

HOW DOES A PATERNITY TEST WORK?

If someone claims that you are the father of a particular child, and you aren’t – or if you’re not sure – you have the right to request a DNA test to determine the truth. You have the right to an attorney’s help, too.

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the main constituent of chromosomes and the carrier of genetic information. Comparing a child’s DNA against an adult’s DNA can determine if the adult is one of the child’s biological parents.

WHO HAS THE RIGHT TO REQUEST PATERNITY TESTING?

In California, any of these parties may ask a family court to order a DNA test to establish (or to disprove) someone’s paternity:

1. a child’s mother
2. a man who believes that he is the child’s father
3. a child support agency that provides services to the child’s mother
4. an adoption agency
5. a man who has been identified as the father but claims or believes that he is not

WHAT IF THE PARTY IDENTIFIED AS THE FATHER REFUSES TO COOPERATE?

If the party identified as the father is ordered by a family court to take a DNA test but refuses to cooperate, the court may presume that the failure to cooperate is evidence of paternity and establish that person as the legal parent without a paternity test.

If a California family court orders you to have a DNA test, the court will arrange for the test and give you instructions regarding where, when, and by whom the testing will be conducted.

To answer the original question we began with, California courts do not accept the results of at-home DNA tests or tests conducted in private medical facilities.

According to family law attorney Mujdah Rahim, “The court will not accept private DNA testing as evidence in a paternity case unless the test has been ordered by the court. This includes, DNA tests at home or in a private medical facility. Rather, the court will order DNA testing with the names of DNA facilities or the parties can have Department of Child Support Services (DCSS).”

WHEN WILL YOU NEED TO CONTACT A FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY?

If you have been served with a court order to take a DNA test to establish or disprove paternity, you should schedule a consultation immediately with a qualified Walnut Creek family law attorney.

Your attorney can explain your rights, your options, and your obligations under the law, and if necessary, your attorney can advocate on your behalf in court.

For a mother and child, the benefits of establishing paternity cannot be overstated; establishing paternity means the mother can expect financial support and health insurance for the child.

A child almost always gains from having a father in his or her life, and if the father is disabled or is a military veteran – or both – the child may qualify for additional benefits. The child also becomes an heir to the father’s estate.

WHAT IS A CALIFORNIA FAMILY COURT’S TOP PRIORITY?

Both of a child’s legal parents will be treated fairly and equally by a California family court, but the court’s leading concern in any case that involves a child will be that child’s best interests.

And while the courts in California are committed to justice, you may find that your rights are sometimes difficult to exercise in this state’s crowded and confusing family courts.

For a paternity case or any other matter of family law, you are going to need experienced and trustworthy legal guidance and advice. Discuss your case with a good California family lawyer as early as possible – as soon as you suspect that you may need an attorney’s help.

Nothing is more important than your child. If you need legal help as a parent with any matter of family law, get that help at once. A good attorney’s help is your right.