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Los Angeles Paternity Lawyer

The Complexity of Paternity Issues

Contrary to popular understanding, paternity issues extend far beyond a single blood test.  For one, not just any test is acceptable as conclusive or admissible as evidence in court.  There may be a “mobile DNA testing facility” with fees as little as $299 around New York City, but a California judge would be inclined to question the validity of the Winnebago’s offering. A customary expectation is that the laboratories carrying out genetic tests be court approved, or accredited  with the California agencies designated by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Paternity lawsuits have a great deal of potential for complexity. Customarily, the alleged father can depend upon his constitutional rights, which afford him an opportunity to present his case on paternity issues in court. But in the state of California, by signing a voluntary paternity declaration,  which normally happens at the time of the child’s birth, the self-designated father effectively forfeits these rights. Therefore, paternity law potentially implicates constitutional due process matters.

Challenging a Paternity Declaration

It is possible for the paternity declaration to be validly rescinded within 60 days of writing the signature on the page. The court might even set it aside at a much later stage, if confronted with irrefutable results of a genetic test. All that said, it is worth noting that the law maintains that the judges bring a multitude of factors into consideration before making a decision. When deciding which to disregard – the paternity declaration or the results of the genetic testing – the courts take into consideration the interest of the child, or, among other details, the possibility of a relationship between the child and his or her biological father.

The Paternity Presumption

In California state, if a husband lives with his wife, a rebuttable presumption stands that he is the father of her children, unless he is impotent or sterile. Particularly, under the Uniform Parentage Act, paternity is presumed if the child is born within 300 days of the end of a marriage, attempted marriage, or cohabitation.

The Act considers other scenarios that trigger the presumption in favor of paternity.  For example, if the alleged father gets married to the mother after the child’s birth, and consents to being named on the child’s birth certificate, then he is presumed to be the biological parent.

The voluntary paternity declaration carries a stronger force – and a bigger impact – than simple presumption: If valid, it has the effect of a judgment. What this means is that it serves as the basis for court orders regarding child support and child custody, unless it is successfully disputed. However, when we talk about “voluntary paternity declaration” within the confines of the legislation, this is more than just a statement.

The California Family Code requires, among other things, that the declaration of paternity be captured in writing, signed by the parents, and witnessed by the hospital staff or a notary. An acceptable declaration of paternity is done on a form that is provided by Child Support Services.  This is not to state that actions and statements of the parent or alleged parent can be disregarded. Assertions of the alleged father definitely play a role in establishing the parenthood presumption in the absence of any written declaration. Yet still, California statute necessitates not only that the presumed father “holds out the child as his” to others around him, but that he additionally welcomes the child into his home.

Blood tests can be brought in to challenge the paternity presumption, although a statute of limitations applies. Nevertheless, there are situations when a blood test is not an option: For example, if the child was conceived artificially, and the father furnished consent, he cannot later use a blood test to argue that he is not the father.

Paternity Action

Since a paternity determination could have far reaching implications, for example with respec tto inheritance, the law aims to set limits on who can bring an action to court to get such parenthood declaration.  The legislation also dictates how they can do this, and at what point in time.

In California, the law only permits specific persons to bring a lawsuit to establish (or to bring into question) a parent-child relationship. Where a presumption in favor of fatherhood is in place, for example, when the child was born in wedlock, the action for declaration of fatherhood can be initiated:

  • by the child his or herself,
  • by an adoption agency, or
  • by a prospective adoptive parent at any time.

The ability to sue is called “standing.”

Child Support Services can also initiate a paternity suit.

In general, if an individual or a public institution provided for the expenses relating to:

  • pregnancy,
  • confinement,
  • education,
  • support, or
  • funeral of the child,

they can also look to enforce parental obligations directly during the proceeding for the determination of the paternity. The law provides the power to sue to interested parties, which can indeed include parties to an assisted reproduction agreement.

Statute of Limitation for Paternity Declaration

As far as the timing is concerned, a paternity lawsuit can be filed even before the birth of a child. The man declared as the father in an official judgment has a two year window to request that such judgment be vacated.

The two-year statute of limitations begins running at the time when the notice of the paternity gets served on the alleged father. After this period is over, even in the event that genetic testing disproves paternity,  the court decision will remain in force. Moreover, if the judgment was made in another state, the California courts have to give it full faith and enforce it.

California’s Jurisdiction over Paternity 

What furnishes California courts the jurisdiction to rule in paternity suits is the act of conception, whether it was natural or artificial, within the territory of the state. Of course, the courts have other basis to establish jurisdiction, but this particular rationale underscores the intimate nature of the information that needs to be disclosed during paternity proceedings. Mercifully, the proceedings may be held in closed court. 

If you have a paternity issue, you would be wise to get an experienced family law attorney involved to make sure your rights are upheld whether you are looking to establish fatherhood or not.  


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