Paternity FAQs

What is a Paternity Judgment?

A judgment of paternity occurs when a court in the State of California adjudicates (declares) that a male person is the legal father of a child. Married men are automatically determined to be the father of a child born during the father’s marriage to the mother. Unmarried men may be on a child’s birth certificate and they may have declared paternity through a “Declaration of Paternity” at a hospital when the child was born, but the courts may not recognize the unmarried man to be the father of a child for various reasons. When the trial court enters a judgment of paternity, the decree is final and the paternal connection between child and father is solidified.

How do I Obtain a Paternity Judgment?

Either the father or mother of a child can file a Petition to Establish Parental Relationship any time after pregnancy occurs. This is the first document needed to open a “paternity case” or “paternity suit” which is the mechanism to obtain a paternity judgment. That kind of petition is filed in the family court in the various areas of Los Angeles depending on where you live. Additionally, if the local Department of Child Support Services is involved, a judgment of paternity may be established through the Family Support Division.

When can a Judgment of Paternity be entered?

A judgment of paternity can be entered anytime after the Petition to Establish Parental Relationship is filed. If the parties agree that the male is the biological father, the timing to obtain the judgment will be quick. If the parties do not agree, either party is entitled to a trial on the issue of whether the male is the biological or “putative” father of a child.

What is a Putative Father?

A putative father is a person who has held themselves out to be the father of a child by taking the child into his home, supporting the child, and engaging in similar behaviors even though he is not the biological father of the child. In certain circumstances, the court may adjudicate the male to be a putative father upon the male’s request or even over the male’s objection. Putative father cases can be very difficult to litigate.

What is a DNA or Genetic Marker Test

Usually the court will order a potential father to participate in a DNA test (also called a “genetic marker test”) within a paternity action. A man being alleged to be the father of a child has an absolute right to a genetic marker test, which show that likelihood that the man is the father within several one-hundredths of a percent. A DNA or genetic marker test will name say that it is 100% certain that a man is the father of a child. Notably, parties to a paternity action do not have to take a DNA test, they can simply agree that a man is the father of a child. However, the man is always given proper advisement that he has an absolute right to a DNA test ordered through the family court.

What does it cost to obtain a Paternity Judgment?

The cost to obtain the court’s adjudication of paternity depends on the circumstances. For example, if the parties agree that the male is the father, if the parties agree to a custody and visitation schedule, and if the parties agree how the issue of child support will be handled, the cost should be relatively modest. If the parties do not agree and litigation occurs, the cost will be higher.

How is Child Custody Ordered in a Los Angeles Paternity Case?

The Los Angeles Family Courts are mandated to enter child custody orders that fit a child’s best interests. There are many factors that the courts must consider when entering a child custody order in a Santa Monica or other Los Angeles area paternity actions. There are two types of child custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make decisions about a child’s education, health, religion, and so on. Unless there is a legitimate reason that a man should not have the right to help make these kinds of decisions for a child, the court will order that the parents share “joint legal custody”. In making an order for physical custody, the court will consider the relationship the child has with each parent, the time each parent cares for the child on a typical schedule, whether one party is keeping a child from the other party, the age of the child, and so on. In a paternity case, the court will almost always enter an order for a parenting plan where a physical custody schedule is implemented.

What if I was Improperly Named the Father of a Child?

The only way to “undo” a judgment of paternity is to request the court that issued the paternity judgment to “set aside” the paternity judgment. There is a very specific procedure for seeking a set aside and a very strict timeline involved.

How is Paternity Different than Adoption?

Paternity occurs when a man is found to be either the biological parent of a child, or “putative” parent of a child (when the father holds a child out to be his own, financially supports the child, etc.) An adoption can occur with either a man or a woman, who then becomes the legal parent or parents of a child. The adoptive parent is not a biological parent to the child.