Bringing a child into your life can be a joyful, fulfilling experience – but when there is a question of the child’s paternity, it could bring both emotional and economic hardship for the parties involved. The best way to settle disputes when both parties don’t agree on who is the father or mother of a child is through paternal DNA testing.

In the state of California, “paternity” is synonymous for “parental relationship”. To establish paternity means that the parents of a child or the court system have reached a shared conclusion on who is responsible for the child’s well-being. Either parent can dispute parentage if it hasn’t be established yet. If a man feels that he is not the biological father of a child, then a DNA test will help the courts determine whether this is true.

Families or individuals dealing with a paternity dispute in Oceanside, California, don’t have to do so alone. At Fischer & Van Thiel, LLP, our paternity lawyers have experience working with cases that require DNA testing. Whether you want to prove a former partner is financially responsible for their child or you want to avoid paying child support when you’re not the biological parent, an experienced paternity attorney can help ensure a fair result in court.

Parentage laws can be very complex. The courts may declare someone as the father of a child, even though the resulting genetic paternity test shows they are not the biological parent. In paternity cases involving same-sex relationships, there could be a dispute as to whether either party intended to become a parent. No matter your situation, the first step to having your case heard is to reach out to a lawyer familiar with family or paternity law. They can help you prepare for your case and inform you on what you should expect along the way.

Presumed Paternity

California law presumes the paternity of a child in some cases – even if a DNA test has not been administered. Until it is proved to a court through genetic testing, the law will presume a person is the legal parent of a child in the following cases:

  • The child was conceived or born during a marriage
  • The couple or former couple had intent to marry at the time the child was conceived or born
  • The couple or former couple got married following the birth and the father agreed to have his name on the birth certificate

In addition to applying to married couples, these presumptions also apply to same-sex couples and those who entered into a registered domestic partnership as of January 2005.

If none of the above apply to a particular person’s situation, then paternity will need to be established through a paternity case, which is any action filed under the California Uniform Parentage Act. A case of this sort can be filed in any county that the child, mother, or alleged father resides in. Paternity cases can also be filed in trials where the father is deceased and there are disputes over the probate of his estate.

When someone doesn’t believe they’re the natural or biological parent of a child, and therefore should not be responsible for financial child support, then a paternity case helps them establish that fact in a court of law. During this case, the disputing party can request a DNA test to prove they are not the parent.

What is a paternity test?

When a child is conceived, they inherit DNA from both their mother and their father. As such, comparing the DNA of a father, mother, and child will help establish their paternal relationship.

DNA or genetic testing is traditionally completed using a painless DNA sample, such as a saliva swab, which can be used to prove or disprove parentage as saliva contains DNA. In these cases, a sterile cotton swab is rubbed inside of the child’s and their alleged parent’s mouths to gather a DNA sample. This is then used to compare the genetic code of all parties involved.

In some cases, the court may require that child, mother, or father involved submit to a genetic blood test, as well. No matter what form of paternity test is used, all tests are performed by a laboratory that has been accredited by the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Who pays for a paternity test?

When you’re being requested to test for paternity, who foots the bill is an important question to ask. Who is responsible for paying largely depends on your circumstances. If you’re being asked to take a paternity test by the Department of Child Support Services in Oceanside, CA, then there traditionally isn’t a charge for either parent.

But, if the court orders you to receive DNA testing during a case, then you may be held responsible for any fees required.

Can I use an online DNA test to prove paternity?

There are many stores and online sources for purchasing DNA testing kits and you may think it’s a good idea to go ahead and order a paternity test online. While these tests might be great for your own personal peace of mind if you want to know whether you’re the biological parent of a child, it’s important to know before you buy that these results are considered meaningless in court.

During a paternity case, the court will not accept any DNA testing done at home or in a private medical facility. They will also not accept the results done privately unless the test has been ordered by the court. If and when the court does request genetic testing to settle a parentage dispute, they will provide you with all the information you need to get the test done successfully.

For legal reasons, all genetic testing is to be performed by a court-designated facility, traditionally a California laboratory that has been accredited by the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Why should I get a paternity test?

Determining parentage can be beneficial for both parents involved in a paternity case. For the mother, it can mean the difference between struggling as a single parent or receiving the financial support needed for the child to get the most out of life. Beyond financial support, if the biological father received health or life insurance, your child could then benefit from those policies, as well. In some rare cases, mothers were able to receive reimbursement for pregnancy or birth expenses.

For the fathers who have now established parentage, they gain the opportunity to raise a child and now have claim to visitation rights. The father can even assert his rights to raise the child by court order if there is ever a dispute caused by the mother refusing visitation.

The perks of establishing parentage for a child goes beyond the emotional benefit of knowing who both their parents are. Once a paternity test reveals their biological mother or father, the other parent may be able to request financial child support to improve their overall quality of life. They may also become eligible for public benefits if the father is disabled or a veteran. The child involved will gain all the same legal rights as a child whose parents are married, including:

  • Financial or child support (including health or life insurance)
  • Both parents names will be added to the child’s birth certificate
  • The ability to access family medical records
  • Social security benefits (if applicable)
  • Veteran’s benefits (if applicable)

A paternity test or case is not needed under the following circumstances:

  • You have signed a voluntary Declaration of Paternity
  • You are married to the legal parent (this includes same-sex marriages)
  • Your local California child support agency has already filed for a court parentage and child support case

Who can request a paternity test?

There are a number of parties who can legally request a paternity action. These include:

  • The mother of a child or expected child
  • The alleged biological father of a child or expected child
  • A representative of the child
  • A state social service agency
  • An adoption agency

For any of the parties mentioned above, the first step in establishing parentage is to file a petition. The other parent will then be served a copy of the petition along with a summons that informs them of their duty to respond.

Traditionally, the court will order an informal pretrial hearing to evaluate the probability of determining whether someone is or is not the biological parent of a child as well as whether the judicial declaration of parentage will be in the best interest of the child. Following the trial, the case will either be dismissed; the matter will be settled by an agreement amongst all parties involved (the mother, alleged father, and the child); or the alleged father will acknowledge the paternity of the child voluntarily.

If a party refuses to accept any of the above, then a judge may order a DNA test to determine paternity before they will make their final recommendation.

Voluntary Paternity

The easiest, most straightforward way for paternity to be established is voluntarily. When an unmarried woman gives birth, the hospital must provide information about Voluntary Declaration of Paternity.

In the state of California, the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form (or VDP) establishes both parents that sign as the legal parents of the child without the need to go to court. No one can force another person to sign it.

Once this form is signed, the mother and father have legally acknowledged that they are the parents of the child. The father’s name will be added to the child’s birth certificate and will gain all parental rights.

In order to be effective, the signed form must be filed with the California Department of Child Support Services Paternity Opportunity Program (POP). If either parent is under the age of 18 at the time the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity is signed, then it will not actually become effective until 60 days after the underage parent reaches the age of 18.

While a DNA test is not required for the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity, many alleged fathers choose to undergo a paternity test prior to making the decision to sign. Once the paternity form has been filed or signed by a judge, it can be difficult and sometimes impossible to rescind or void the form. Due to this, the alleged father may want to ensure he is the natural parent of the child before assuming the financial and emotional responsibilities of becoming a legal parent.

California Court-Ordered Paternity Test

If an alleged parent denies that they are the natural parent of a child, the California law allows the following to request an order of paternity from the court:

  • The child’s mother
  • The alleged father of the child
  • The local child support agency
  • An adoption agency
  • Guardian or representative of the child

Whoever files the action for the paternity case is responsible for paying the filing fee, gathering supporting documents for their case, and serving the alleged parent with a summons. Even after an order of paternity is requested by the court, it doesn’t mean the alleged father will have to take a paternity test immediately. First, the court will hear the case and based on the information gathered during the pretrial, will determine if a paternity test is in the best interest of all parties involved.

Once you’ve been served with a summons or complaint by a California child support agency or the Department of Child Support Services, you then have 30 days from that date to respond. You can either ask for a paternity test or contest that you are the parent.

Don’t ignore this summons. If you don’t respond within 30 days of the date you were served or you refuse to cooperate, then the court may decide that you are the legal parent based on the information given by the accusing party and not based on DNA evidence. You should exercise your right to take a paternity test and to ensure your side of the story is heard in court.

What happens after paternity is determined?

Establishing paternity does more than just provide all parties the peace of mind of knowing the truth. Depending on whether the alleged father is proven to be the biological parent of the child, the court can then order:

  • Child support
  • Health insurance
  • Visitation for noncustodial parents
  • Legal custody of the child
  • Payment for genetic testing
  • Payment of either party’s attorney’s fees & court costs

Get a Consultation for your Oceanside, CA Paternity Case

If you’ve been served with a summons to determine paternity or if you’re a single parent seeking support from a former partner, discovering the truth is about more than taking a paternity test. The experienced paternity lawyers at Fischer & Van Thiel, LLP are dedicated to helping Oceanside residents with their paternity cases. Beyond providing you with sound legal advice when it comes to paternity testing, our paternity lawyers can also help you gather the supporting documents or information you need for your case.