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Riverside Paternity Lawyer

July 23, 2020

Paternity Matters Can be Complicated

As popularized by daytime talk shows, most people espouse the idea that a single blood test is the only way to establish paternity.  In reality, legal paternity matters go much further than that.  As far as the genetic testing is concerned, not just any blood test is considered to be valid as conclusive or admissible as evidence in a court of law.  You may find mobile DNA testing facilities parked on New York street corners.  They may be able to test you and provide results for as low as $299, but a justice in a California Family Court would be reluctant to accept the validity of a paternity test performed in a Winnebago. The customary and, indeed, reasonable expectation is that the laboratory that carries out a genetic test for a paternity matter is one that is approved by the courts, or accredited with the state agencies designated by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

In actuality, legal matters concerning paternity can be very complicated. The presumed father of a child is protected by constitutional rights on which he can rely.  His rights allow him the opportunity to present his case on paternity matters before a family court judge in the state where he lives. Nevertheless, in California, by signing your name on a voluntary paternity declaration, an occurrence that customarily takes place at the time of a child’s birth, the effectively self-designated father basically forfeits his right to refute his paternity. Because of this, paternity legislation potentially implicates constitutional due process matters.

Petitioning to Have a Paternity Declaration Invalidated or Rescinded

The possibility of having a paternity declaration rescinded exists, as long as the request to do so is made within 60 days of signing. The court might even invalidate the declaration at a much later stage.  If a judge is looking at irrefutable results of a genetic test, for example, those results could serve as evidence to support rendering a paternity declaration invalid. Nevertheless, it is certainly worth stating here that the law obligates family court judges to call a multitude of factors under consideration before rendering a verdict on a paternity case.  In their choice of which to disregard – a signed paternity declaration or the outcome of a blood test – the courts will also think about the interest of the child, or, on top of other details, the possibility of an existing closeness between the child and his or her biological father.

The Presumption of Paternity in California

In the state of California, if a husband resides with his wife as in a normal marital situation, a rebuttable presumption exists that he is the father of her children.  The exception to this presumption is in the case that the husband is sterile or impotent. Interestingly, according to the Uniform Parentage Act, paternity is also presumed for a child who is born within 300 days of the end of a marriage, attempted marriage, or cohabitation.

The Uniform Parentage Act also examines other situations that trigger the presumption in favor of paternity.  If the presumed father weds the mother after the child’s birth, for instance, and he allows the mother to enter his name on the child’s birth certificate, then he is presumed to be the biological parent of her child.

This voluntary paternity declaration carries more power– and inflicts a greater impact – than just the presumption: If the declaration stands, it has the effect of a court judgment. In other words, it can serve as the foundation for court orders for child support and child custody, unless that declaration is disputed and successfully rescinded.

In a discussion surrounding  “voluntary paternity declaration” within the terms of the legislation, this declaration goes further than just being a written statement. The obligation delineated in the California Family Code, among other things, is that this voluntary paternity declaration be duly documented, and signed by the parents of the child in the presence of witnesses.  Hospital or birthing center staff members or a notary public can be witnesses to the signing. A proper voluntary declaration of paternity is completed on a form that comes from Child Support Services. 

The goal of these requirements is not that actions and statements of a parent or alleged parent can be overlooked. Indeed, the assertions of the alleged father most definitely play a critical role in establishing the parenthood presumption in the absence of any documentation. That fact notwithstanding, the California statute necessitates not only that the man who is the presumed father “holds out the child as his” to the people in his life, but that on top of that he embraces the child as a member of his household.

Genetic blood tests can be utilized to challenge the paternity presumption, provided that the test and petition happen within the statute of limitations. That fact notwithstanding, there are some circumstances under which a blood test cannot change a paternity ruling: For instance, if the child was conceived artificially, and the father consented to this procedure, he cannot later come to court with a blood test and argue that he is not the father.

Filing a Paternity Petition

Because of the reality that  a paternity verdict could have such profound implications, for example with regards to inheritance, the law aims to impose limits on who is able bring an action to court to obtain a parenthood declaration.  The law also details the steps such persons may take to accomplish this, and at what point in time they would be able to do it.

In California state, the law only provides certain persons the right to bring a lawsuit to establish (or to question) a parent-child relationship. Where there is already a presumption in favor of fatherhood, for example, when the child was born to a married couple, the parties who have the right to initiate an action for declaration of paternity are:

  • the child in question,
  • officials from an adoption agency, or
  • a potential adoptive parent at any time.

The ability to bring a suit is referred to as “standing.”

The Child Support Services unit also has the right to bring a paternity suit.

For the most part, if an individual or a public institution incurred any expenses relating to:

  • pregnancy,
  • education,
  • confinement,
  • support, or
  • A funeral for the child,

they may also look to enforce parental obligations as part and parcel of the proceeding for the determination of the paternity. The law provides folks the power to bring suit against interested parties, which could indeed include parties to an assisted reproduction agreement.

Paternity Declaration: The Statute of Limitation

How timing comes into play in a paternity declaration is that a paternity suit can be filed before the child is born. The man identified as the biological father in an official judgment has a two year window to request that this judgment be vacated.

The two-year statute of limitations begins to clock from the time when the notice of paternity is served on the alleged father. After this period has expired, even when genetic testing disproves paternity,  the court’s decision stands. Moreover, if the judgment was decided in another state, the courts in California have to give that judgement full faith and enforce it.

California’s Jurisdiction With Regards to Paternity 

What allows the California courts to have jurisdiction to rule in paternity cases is the fact that the conception of the child was, not matter if it was natural or artificial, within the confines of the Golden State. Certainly the courts do have other methods by which to establish jurisdiction, but this rationale in particular highlights the intimate nature of the details that have to be disclosed during paternity proceedings. Mercifully, the proceedings can take place in a closed courtroom. 

If you have an issue related to a paternity declaration, you will need the services of a well informed family law attorney who can make certain that your rights are upheld whether you are looking to establish fatherhood or deny it.  



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