Paternity: What Fathers Need to Know
Even if parents aren’t married, both have rights and responsibilities concerning their child. Every child has a right to have both a mother and father, and in California, the family courts may enforce those rights and responsibilities through paternity actions to address issues of child support, custody and visitation.
There are four ways to establish paternity in California: presumption, acknowledgment, court order and DNA proof. If the parties are married, there is a presumption that the husband is the father of all children born to the marriage. Acknowledgment occurs when a father signs the forms at the hospital when the child is born. A court order looks at the best interest of the child and may determine paternity even in the face of biological evidence to the contrary. Finally, the definitive standard for determining paternity is the DNA test.
A paternity case can encompass numerous legal, financial and emotional issues.
One common issue that arises in paternity cases is a situation where a man has signed an acknowledgment of paternity and later learns that the child may not be his. In some cases, men have acknowledged paternity knowing the child isn’t theirs. It may take more than a DNA test to set aside an acknowledgment of paternity, especially if a significant amount of time has passed. Signing the acknowledgment is not a matter to be taken lightly, and the best way to resolve any doubts is to have the DNA test before signing.
Once paternity is established, you may be required to pay child support. Child support is determined by a set of guidelines based upon your income and some expenses. You will be required to provide tax and payroll records. Most jurisdictions do not consider “things you bought for the child” such as diapers, formula, groceries, or toys as child support. Once child support is ordered, it’s important to remember that there are serious consequences for falling behind, such as loss of driver’s or professional licenses or even jail time. If you are unable to pay due to injury or unemployment, you need to promptly notify your attorney, preferably before legal actions are taken against you. The parent receiving the child support is not required to account for the payments unless there is proof that the child’s needs are being neglected. Make sure to pay by check for all child support so that there is a record of payment in the event of a dispute.
Custody and visitation are two other issues that can arise in paternity cases. Some single mothers may become overly possessive of the child and don’t want to allow visitation. Others want to pose conditions such as ” I don’t want my child around your new significant other”
Consulting a qualified attorney can help minimize issues and preserve your rights as a parent. For a confidential free initial consultation, call our office at 858-312-8500 or contact us online.