In California, if a couple is not married at the time that their child is born, they will need to establish “parentage” or paternity through a legal process. The laws applicable to paternity are set up to protect the child’s best interests and needs, both emotional and financial. Specifically, one must establish parentage before a court will address and rule on any matters concerning custody, visitation, or child support. Parents confronting child custody disputes, including cases that involve questions of parentage, are encouraged to contact a San Diego family law attorney who can competently and efficiently navigate the local court system’s rules and procedures in a timely manner.
In a recent court of appeals case, a man claiming to be the child’s father lost his petition for paternity because, among other things, he filed parentage documents after the statute of limitations had expired. In Adrian V. v. Stephanie C., et al., plaintiff Adrian filed a petition to establish a parental relationship with N., contending that he was her father, and sought custody and support orders. Defendant, mother, opposed the petition, arguing that Adrian was not the father and she simultaneously requested an order declaring that another man, Andy, was N.’s father. She submitted the child’s birth certificate that identified Andy as the father.
The court ordered Stephanie to provide Adrian with Andy’s Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (which was executed in 2007). In response, Adrian asked the court to order DNA Testing and to vacate the paternity declaration. Both sides provided testimony supporting their relative positions. Stephanie admited to not knowing for certain who the biological father was, but “suspect[s] that it is Andy” because of his resemblance to the child. Further, Stephanie argued that the motion for DNA testing was untimely under Family Code Section 7575 and should not be granted. Adrian argued that the statute allows the court to exercise its discretion and grant the motion, even if it was filed too late.
The trial court ruled that the motion for the DNA test was untimely under statute. Despite acknowledging that it has the power to exercise discretion to grant the motion, the court refused to do so, finding that Adrian had a lot of time to file for paternity and did not do so. The court pointed out that the intent of the two-year statute of limitations is to provide for “stability in the relationships between parents and their children.” Under the facts here, Adrian knew about N. when she was only one year old – but waited until she was almost four before he did anything about it.
The court of appeals upheld the trial court’s decision, finding that there was no abuse of discretion in denying the motion for DNA testing. According to the court, it was undisputed that Adrian knew about the child within the limitations period and he failed to show “extrinsic fraud,” any knowing misrepresentation concerning paternity by Stephanie and Andy or ignorance by Adrian concerning the meaning of a voluntary declaration of paternity.
While courts and parties are prohibited from citing or relying on this unpublished opinion, the underlying court’s reasoning may inform later decisions handed down by courts in this jurisdiction. As one can see from this case, it is critically important to hire an experienced family law attorney as early in the proceedings as possible.
If you are a parent with questions about child custody matters, contact Doppelt & Forney. Mr. Doppelt is an experienced family law attorney and has been representing parents involved in child custody disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt & Forney serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).
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