Many unmarried mothers in San Diego are urged by family, friends, and government to promptly seek paternity determinations in order to obtain financial support for their children. In some cases, this may seem to be a simple matter, especially if the parties have enjoyed an exclusive relationship for a significant time period.
However, there may be complex emotional factors that come into play. If a man has any doubt about whether or not the child is really his, the possibility of an eighteen plus year child support obligation may be seen more as a financial threat than anything else. In addition, once a paternity case is opened, this also “opens the door” for the father to request custody and visitation and a parenting plan. As such, it is best to analyze without emotion and based on the law and facts.
As family law has changed over the years, historic assumptions have fallen by the wayside. Mothers are no longer “assumed” to be automatically best qualified for custody. And most states, including California and in San Diego, have taken a pro-active approach to collecting both financial support and emotional support from both parents. It is no longer a gender issue in San Diego Court.
If you aren’t married to your baby’s father, there are two ways to legally establish paternity. The easiest is for both parents to sign a Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity form. These forms are available at prenatal care clinics, hospitals, birthing centers, and county offices. The forms must be notarized and have certain procedural requirements in order to be valid. They may be cancelled within sixty days of signing if the parties change their minds.
The other way to establish paternity is through court-ordered DNA testing and a request for a judgment of paternity. Again, there are certain procedural requirements to be met. For example, it is possible to privately submit DNA samples to online testing services, but the results are not usually accepted in court. This is due to the fact that the testing service may not be able to accurately determine the identity of sample contributors.
A paternity action will probably involve three separate issues: financial support and custody and visitation. Many unmarried mothers have been unpleasantly surprised when they receive notice that their baby’s father is requesting custody of the child and this can be as a direct result of requesting child support. As such, as above, it is important to consider all consequences before implementing any strategies.
The best way to avoid unpleasant aspects of a paternity question is to avoid difficult situations in the first place. Of course, that isn’t always an option. So your second best option may be to consult a qualified San Diego divorce lawyer. Even if you aren’t getting a divorce, the issues of support, custody and visitation are governed by the same laws, and a knowledgeable attorney can help protect your rights if the situation gets unpleasant. Be prepared to disclose all pertinent facts to your attorney. The attorney needs to know if there is a possibility you are mistaken about the father’s identity. Are there issues that may impact a custody determination or visitation terms? Has either party made threats or behaved in a manner suggesting they may try to remove the child from California or the United States? If parents can work together, joint custody may be a viable option to look into. If the romantic relationship has ended, you still need to maintain a reasonable working relationship with the other parent to try and avoid your life turning into a nightmare.
For a free initial consultation about paternity or other family law issues, contact us online or call our office at 858-312-8500.