A paternity action is a case that involves a man who fathers a child with a woman, but the couple was never married. Under the Uniform Parentage Act in California, the mother or father of the child can request a paternity test to determine if the man is the natural father. This process consists of a blood test as well as other forms of evidence and information that will determine paternity. If the man is the father of the child, he is legally entitled to parental rights, and financial and parenting responsibilities need to be addressed. Paternity establishes a legal relationship between the father and child. If paternity is admitted or determined by the court, but no child support is being paid, a child support order can be obtained from the judge. Indeed, it is a mother’s desire to obtain a child support order that prompts the filing of most paternity actions, although father’s can also file a paternity action to obtain visitation or custody rights.
On occasion, parties have children prior to marriage, but later marry each other. In this instance, paternity does not exist automatically as it does when a married couple has children. If the parties later file a divorce or legal separation action, the court will establish paternity in connection with that proceeding rather than require a separate paternity action.
There is no deadline for filing a paternity action. On some unfortunate occasions, mothers file paternity actions when their children are well into their teenage years and when the fathers do not even know that a child was conceived! This situation causes great turmoil for the fathers and children who were essentially denied the opportunity to be a part of each other’s lives by a mother who elected not to inform the father of her pregnancy. Nonetheless, paternity can be established in such instances and child support orders obtained. It is also permissible for the fathers to seek visitation orders, but it is often too late in the child’s life to establish a paternal bond.