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Establishing parentage for child support and custody purposes

by | Jun 7, 2023 | Child Custody


Relationships between adults are complicated, and this can especially be true when unmarried parents have a child together. Some unmarried parents continue their relationship and raise their child together. Other times, the unmarried parents end their relationship before the child is born or soon after.

If unmarried parents break up, before a child support order or custody or visitation can be sought by the father, parentage (paternity) must be established. Two ways you can establish parentage in California are by signing a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage or by pursuing a court order.

Voluntary Declaration of Parentage

A Voluntary Declaration of Parentage is a form you and your child’s other parent will sign willingly, stating you are the child’s biological parent. The form can be found at the hospital where the child is born and sign it there, or it can be signed afterwards.

Signing a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage is akin to obtaining a court order. It is a legally enforceable document. It can be rescinded, but only within a limited timeframe and only for specific reasons.

Court order

If you do not sign a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage or if there is a question as to who the child’s biological parent is, you might want to pursue a court order to either prove (or not prove) you are the child’s biological parent. Your local child support agency has further information on this process.

If you pursue a court order of parentage, the judge may request the parties to submit to genetic testing. The testing can be done via a simple cheek swab. Note, though, that it is possible for someone to be adjudicated the child’s legal parent even if they are not the child’s biological parent.

Why establish parentage?

Establishing parentage is important for parents and children. Parents can pursue child support or custody and visitation if parentage is established.

Children benefit emotionally from knowing who their parents are, especially if they can have the financial support of both parents and a healthy relationship with both parents. Establishing parentage also ensures a child can inherit and qualify for government benefits from their parents.

In the end, when unmarried parents have a child together, they are both responsible for supporting the child financially and having a healthy relationship with their child. Establishing parentage is often the first step in achieving these goals.