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Navigating Paternity Suits and Establishing Parentage


Divorce and separations are not the only time child custody and support battles can occur. A child custody battle can take place between two people who are not married, or even among a collection of relatives, guardians, or stepparents. Determining a child’s legal parents is crucial to their livelihood, and sometimes it is conducted through a paternity suit or a legal proceeding.

What Is a Paternity Suit?

A paternity suit is a litigation that settles who a child’s father is. For example, a mother might file a paternity suit against an alleged father to obtain child support, an inheritance, or to relinquish custody. Alternatively, a man who believes himself to be the father of a child might file a paternity suit in order to obtain custody, visitation rights, government benefits, and the ability to make decisions regarding the healthcare of the child.

Typically, a court-ordered DNA test will determine the father of the child, but this alone is not enough to establish paternity. An official court order is needed in order to legally establish paternity.

When Is It Necessary?

When two people are married at the birth of a child, they are both assumed to be the legal parents, even in domestic partnerships. But when a child is born to a single mother, a paternity suit might take place in order to legally identify the father.

Although a DNA test is usually involved in some capacity, it is not always the determinate of parentage. For example, if an individual has assumed parenting duties like caring for and housing the child, parentage may be determined “by estoppel.” This can mark relatives, stepparents, or guardians of the child as their legal parents, rather than or in addition to someone who is genetically related to the child.

Even same-sex couples must obtain a legal court order to identify them both as parents of a child if they did not have a domestic partnership at the time of the child’s birth or adoption.

And even if a man is determined to genetically be a parent of a child, a legal order is needed to make them officially a parent of the child if the two individuals in question were not married at the time of the child’s birth. A father may also willingly sign an official declaration of paternity at the birth of the child or willingly identify himself as the father.

Establishing parentage is crucial in order to decide matters of custody, visitation, and child support, as well as to provide a sense of stability and order to the child’s life.

What Are The Benefits of Establishing Paternity?

Determining a child’s parentage and establishing paternity has huge benefits both for the child as well as the parents. The child will benefit from:

• Receiving financial and emotional support from both parents
• Having access to family medical records and history
• Rights to inherit from both parents
• Rights to receive social security, veteran’s benefits, and healthcare

For parents, the obvious benefit for you in establishing paternity and parentage is the potential for a meaningful relationship with your child. Additionally, you may receive or be able to provide child support, health insurance, and parenting help.

Paternity suits and establishing parentage are not clear-cut, but they are crucial. If you have any questions about how to proceed with your child custody or support battle, whether a marriage was involved or not, we can help you navigate this process.

At Negley Law, APC we’re here to help as you navigate this challenging time. We can help take the burden of the legal proceedings off your shoulders so that you can focus on rebuilding your life and looking to your future. If you have questions or concerns about how to conduct yourself during a divorce, please contact us. The initial consultation with one of our dedicated family law attorneys is free. NOTE: The information contained herein is not intended to be legal advice and the reader should know that no Attorney-Client relationship or privilege is formed by the posting or reading of this article which is also not intended to solicit business.

John J. Negley, Jr., CFLS*
(805) 644-4222
200 E Santa Clara St #200, Ventura, CA 93001
*Certified Family Law Specialist by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization.

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