Establishing paternity can impact a child’s life, both psychologically and financially. There is no requirement that a father sign a birth certificate, so the mother may list anyone whom she believes is, or wants to be, the father. However, the fact that a person’s name appears on a birth certificate is not conclusive proof of paternity. Should the issue of disputed paternity arise in divorce, a DNA test can be given to quickly and accurately determine paternity. Paternity is a sensitive issue that should be discussed with a California family law attorney.
The Significance of a Paternity Determination
When paternity is established, a child receives the right to shelter and aid, as well as the emotional relief in knowing who is their father. When paternity is established the child also secures the right to inherit, access personal information about the known health risks and profiles of the paternal family and sue for harm or death of the father. Once paternity is established, the child may also be eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits resulting from the father’s death or other dependent-based governmental assistance.
For a mother, paternity determinations secure financial support as well as custody and visitation rights. When a father disputes parentage, paternity determination means that he will now be held accountable for his share of support and responsibility.
The Paternity Test
Recent changes in technology have radically changed the process for determining paternity. Long gone are the days of relying solely on physical characteristics between the child and father. The alleged father only needs to submit a painless DNA sample usually in the form of a saliva swab to prove or disprove his parentage. DNA testing has a conclusive accuracy (close to 100 percent) that makes it very reliable and admissible in court as proof of paternity.
Family Court and Paternity
In California, a paternity action takes the form of a civil lawsuit. In the Sacramento family court, the party who files the action will be responsible for providing supporting documents, paying the filing fee with the court and serving the responding party with a summons and copy of the complaint. There is usually a requirement that other necessary parties be notified as well as a deadline in which they can respond. Besides the mother and father of the child, only certain persons or parties have legal standing to bring a paternity action:
- A personal representative of the child.
- A state social service agency, interceding in cases of child neglect or need.
- A prosecutor’s office, interceding in cases of child neglect or need.
If the father has passed away, he must have affirmatively done something to acknowledge the child prior to death such as putting his name on the child’s birth certificate or identifying himself as the father in some other legal or formal action. If you are facing this situation, you should seek legal advice on how to obtain DNA evidence to prove paternity.
It is important to understand that family court will not automatically order paternity tests simply because a paternity action has been filed. A family law judge will review the petition and determine if there is sufficient information to justify a paternity test. If the court orders a paternity test, the mother, child and alleged father will all be tested at a court-designated facility.
Should the DNA test confirm paternity, a court determination of paternity will be made. This order is final and will be needed to establish the child’s rights for both present and future actions in family court. It is important to seek legal advice from a family law attorney who can help you with child support and custody issues once paternity is established.