California Appeals Court Holds a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity Does not Necessarily Establish Presumed Father Status

When a child is born to unwed parents, the importance of establishing paternity (or parentage) cannot be overstated: the child’s welfare could hang in the balance. In fact, before a California court will render an order regarding custody, visitation or child support, parentage must be established. A variety of complicated issues can arise with respect to paternity and child custody arrangements. If you are facing a child custody dispute of any kind, it is important to contact an experienced family law attorney who can help to protect your rights. A local attorney will best be able to guide you through the local family court process in San Diego.

A recent case illustrates some of the complications that can occur when more than one person claims to be a child’s father. In In Re Jovanni B., two men claimed to be the father of a boy born in June 2012. John B. was living with the child’s mother when he was born, and signed a voluntary declaration of paternity. The court got involved when the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (the “DCFS”) filed a juvenile dependency petition, asserting jurisdiction over Jovanni B, arguing that the mother and John B. had a history of violent disputes in the presence of the child. During interviews with a social worker, the mother admitted that another man, Brian H., was Jovanni B.’s biological father.

The juvenile court did the following: 1) ordered the child to be released to the mother, 2) ordered Brian H. to take a DNA test (which confirmed that he was the baby’s biological father) and, 3) denied John B. visitation and granted Brian H. monitored visits. Upon receiving the DNA test results, the juvenile court dismissed John B. from the proceedings and offered “reunification services” to Brian H. John B. appealed, claiming that he should be entitled to “presumed father” status because he signed the voluntary declaration of paternity. Under Section 7573 of California’s Family Code, the voluntary declaration of paternity shall be recognized as a basis for the establishment of an order for child custody, visitation, or child support.

The court of appeals agreed with John B. that the results of the DNA test are not dispositive of his right to participate in the proceedings. But the court refused to accept John B.’s argument that he is entitled to presumed father status merely because he signed a voluntary declaration of paternity. Under the state statute, a court may set aside the declaration of paternity if genetic tests show that the man who signed it, is not the “father of the child.” The court further explained that presumed father status might be found where a man has “promptly come forward and demonstrated his ‘full commitment to his parental responsibilities – emotional, financial and otherwise.'” Essentially, the court said that the legislature did not intend to give a man presumed father status who has not otherwise established a relationship with a child. The court remanded the case back to juvenile court to determine whether, under the Family Code, setting aside the voluntary declaration of paternity was appropriate in this case.

The outcome of a paternity action has the potential to affect child custody rights, among many other things. It is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney who understands the local family laws and procedures and can guide you accordingly.

If you are a parent with questions about child custody matters, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC . Mr. Doppelt is an experienced family law attorney and has been representing parents involved in child custody disputes for more than 20 years. Doppelt and Forney, APLC serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt and Forney, APLC through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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