Under California family law statutes, paternity can be established in a number of ways depending on the relationship between the father and mother. Through the combination of statute-mandated presumptions and DNA testing, determinations regarding paternity made by the court can have a significant impact on child custody and child support.
An unmarried father must sign a paternity declaration in order for his name to appear on a child's birth certificate. The paternity declaration is significant because it creates both support obligations and parental rights for the father. In San Diego, there is a rebuttable presumption that a man who accepts a child into his home and openly holds that child out to be his own is the child's biological father. This presumption is rebuttable through the use of blood tests to determine paternity. If no blood tests are conducted and introduced into paternity proceedings, the man is presumed to be the child's father.
A child conceived during a martial relationship in which the wife is cohabitating with the husband is presumed to be a child of the marriage. In other words, the mother's husband is presumptively the child's father. If the husband is sterile or impotent, the marital presumption will not apply. This presumption may be overcome through the use of blood or DNA testing to determine paternity. The presumed father must petition for court-ordered blood testing within two years of the child's birth. Therefore, unless a motion is filed within the two-year statute of limitations and blood testing establishes the husband is not the father, the mother's husband is conclusively presumed to be the father. The presumption will still apply even if another man is proven to be the biological father of the child.
The marital and non-marital paternity presumptions can have harsh consequences regarding a father's parental rights. Considering that the husband of a child's mother is presumed to be the child's father and that in non-marital relationships a man must live with and hold a child out to be his own in order to be presumed the father, a child conceived out of an affair can create a devastating situation for the biological father. In a California family law case, Dawn D. v. Jerry K. (1998) 17 Cal.4th 932, this scenario became a reality. In this case, Dawn D. intended to divorce her husband when she began living with another man named Jerry K. Shortly after moving in with Jerry K. Dawn D. became pregnant. Just three months into her pregnancy, Dawn D. returned to her husband and rekindled their marriage. As a result of this case, the biological father, Jerry K. was unable to assert his parental rights to his child.
The paternity presumptions can have surprising consequences in terms of child support obligations as well. A presumed father is obligated to pay child support where support is ordered. If a presumed father makes child support payments for the child's minority and later learns he is not the biological father, he has no recourse for the 18 years of child support payments made. Further, if a presumed father conclusively proves through DNA testing that he is not the biological father of a child BUT has missed the two-year statute of limitations, he will be on the hook for child support payments for the remainder of the child's minority.
California family law cases operate under the best interest of the child standard. Most family court rulings attempt to further that interest as the paramount concern. Many argue that paternity presumptions are outdated, unnecessary and detrimental to the best interest of the child. Because science has advanced and paternity can be determined so accurately and efficiently, these advocates contend that DNA testing should be conducted in each paternity case in order to ensure the child's biological father is shouldered with the responsibilities and is able to enjoy his parental rights.
Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding custody and/or paternity. San Diego Family Law Attorney Nancy J. Bickford is the only board-certified divorce lawyer representing clients in San Diego who also holds an MBA and a CPA. Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.