California law presumes that when married people or registered domestic partners have a child, the spouses or partners are the child’s parents. There is no need to do anything to establish legal parentage. But if the parents were not married or in a registered domestic partnership when the mother became pregnant or when the child was born, with a few exceptions, the child has only one legal parent until paternity or a domestic partner’s parentage can be legally established. This is true even if a man has incontrovertible proof that he is the biological father.

Be aware that a man’s name appearing on a birth certificate is not conclusive proof of paternity. The biological mother may write any name she wishes as the biological father. The father does not need to sign the birth certificate.

Legal Parentage - An image of a client discussing parentage with his lawyer and a gavel beside him - Ghazi Law Group

Legal Presumption of Parenthood

Here are the circumstances under which the law presumes parenthood without the need for further legal action. Presumptions may be rebutted in court in some cases.

The law presumes a a person to be the parent of a child if (Family Code Section 7611):

(a) The parents are, or have been, married to each other and the child is born during the marriage, or within 300 days after the marriage is terminated by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity, or divorce/separation; or

(b) Before the child’s birth, the parents of the child attempted to marry each other in apparent compliance with law, although the attempted marriage is or could be declared invalid, and either of the following is true:

    (1) If the attempted marriage could be declared invalid only by a court, the child is born during the attempted marriage, or within 300 days after its termination by death, annulment, declaration of invalidity, or divorce.
    (2) If the attempted marriage is invalid without a court order, the child is born within 300 days after the termination of cohabitation.

(c) After the child’s birth, the parents have married, or attempted to marry, in apparent compliance with law, although the attempted marriage is or could be declared invalid, and either of the following is true:

    (1) With the presumed parent’s consent, the presumed parent is named as the child’s parent on the child’s birth certificate.
    (2) The presumed parent is obligated to support the child under a written voluntary promise or by court order.

(d) The presumed parent receives the child into their home and openly holds out the child as their natural child.

These same presumptions apply to same-sex couples who were entered into a registered domestic partnership after January 2005.

Why Establish Paternity or Parentage?

Establishing legal parentage conveys certain rights to the child as well as rights and responsibilities to the parents. For example, a person cannot petition the court for child custody, visitation or support until legal parentage is established.

Establishing legal parentage entitles the child to the same rights as children of married parents. These include

  • Financial support from each parent
  • The names of both parents appearing on their birth certificate
  • Inheritance rights
  • Rights to benefits of the parents such as veteran’s and social security benefits
  • Access to family medical records and history, which can be life-saving for them and for their future children
  • Health and life insurance coverage
  • How to Establish Parentage

    If legal parentage is not presumed under California law, parentage may be established by:

  • Both parties signing a voluntary declaration of paternity or parentage. This may be done at any time. However, if the form is signed at the hospital when the child is born, both parents will go on the original birth certificate. Otherwise, a new birth certificate will be issued after the voluntary declaration is signed.
  • Petitioning for a court order. Either the mother or father may petition the court.
  • Voluntary Declaration of Parentage or Paternity

    Legal parentage or paternity can be achieved when both parties voluntarily sign a California Voluntary Declaration of Parentage form. You must then file this form with the California Department of Child Support Services Parentage Opportunity Program (POP). This is an easy process that does not require a court appearance.
    In some circumstances, this form cannot establish a child’s parentage. To be eligible, you must be:

  • An unmarried birth parent and the only possible genetic father, or
  • Two people, married or unmarried, who had their child through assisted reproduction using sperm and/or egg donation, except if any donation was from their spouse.
  • Court Order

    If it’s not possible to establish parentage through a voluntary declaration of parentage, either party may petition the family court for an order that establishes legal parentage or paternity. In order to determine a father’s genetic paternity, a court may order DNA testing, which is conclusive proof of biological parentage.

    It’s possible in California that a court may determine that a child has more than two legal parents if it would be detrimental to the child to determine otherwise.

    Same-Sex Couples

    Some parentage cases involve same-sex couples who were not married or in a registered domestic relationship at the time the child was conceived or born. In the case of two women, one or both parties would need to petition the court for an order establishing the legal parentage of the partner who is not the biological mother. In the case of two men, they would have to show proof that they acted in a manner consistent with their intent to be the child’s parents. Every case is different, and you will want to speak with a good California family lawyer who can analyze your case and advise you how best to establish parentage.

    Call Ghazi Law Group for a Consultation

    Whether you would like to prove or disprove parentage, call Ghazi law group for a  consultation. Contact Ghazi Law at (818) 839-6644 or email us at We are located in Sherman Oaks, California, close to Encino, Woodland Hills, Studio City and other areas of Los Angeles County.

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