Bartholomew & Wasznicky LLP
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When is a father considered a father in the eyes of the law?

Becoming a parent can be both a terrifying and incredibly exciting moment for a lot of fathers. Though you may be saying goodbye to a lot of your free time --not to mention being able to sleep in on the weekends -- you may be like so many who can't help but marvel at your newfound responsibilities. You may even be eager to start.

Unfortunately for fathers who are not married to their child's mother, getting the opportunity to see your child on a regular basis might be a challenge. In situations like this, it can be disheartening to learn you don't have the same rights as other fathers who are married. In the end, this could leave you wondering about your parental rights and how to establish them.

Biological father vs. legal father

In order to understand your parental rights, we first need to look at how parentage is established in California.

Under California law, a man is considered the "presumed father" if:

  • He was married to the child's mother at the time of birth
  • He attempted to marry the mother before the child was born
  • He marries the child's mother after the birth and accepts responsibility of the child
  • He acts as if the child is his own and supports the child as such

    In cases where two parents are not married, a man is never presumed to be the father until parentage is established. As such, a man could be the biological father of a child but not presumed to be the legal father. Having the title of legal father is what grants a father parental rights.

    How can a biological father become a legal father?

    There are two main ways in which paternity can be established when parents are not married:

    1. By voluntarily signing a Declaration of Paternity
    2. Through a court order, which typically involves genetic testing

    Why is establishing paternity important?

    It's very important to know that in cases where a child's parents are not married, a mother is under no obligation to allow the father to visit with or retain custody of the child. The father has no rights until parentage is established. As such, the right to visitation and custody may be two important reasons why a father might establish parentage. For mothers, establishing parentage means having the legal right to pursue child support payments as well.

    Establishing parentage isn't always connected to legal matters, however. Establishing parentage gives a child access to their complete medical history, which can help the child and his or her doctors immensely all throughout life.

    Getting help with a paternity issue

    Understanding your parental rights can be overwhelming, but trying to understand the full scope of your rights while trying to navigate the complex legal process can leave you at a loss. Establishing paternity isn't as straightforward of a process as it may seem, which is why it's necessary to consider seeking legal counsel to ensure the best possible outcome.

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