An Unmarried Father’s Parental Rights in California

parents discussing divorce

Thousands of babies are born to unmarried couples in California every year. The number currently sits at 37% but is rising as familial norms are shifting away from the outdated notion that babies shouldn’t be born out of wedlock. However, when a baby is born to unmarried parents, it is much harder for the father to maintain parental rights than it is for the mother. Even if you have unofficial agreements about parental involvement and seem to be on the same page about parenting decisions, unmarried fathers should take the extra step of legally establishing paternity if they want to have a legally enforceable say in decisions about raising the child and have visitation or custody. Verbal agreements about parenting are extremely difficult to enforce without legal ties to the child, and the mother has the freedom to move away, deny visitation, and make decisions without consulting the father if the father has not established paternity. Establishing paternity, however, also gives the father legal responsibility for that child until they reach the age of majority unless the father’s parental rights are later severed.

Establishing Paternity

When a child is born out of wedlock, the child’s custody and rights, and the responsibilities and protection that come with those rights, are automatically assigned to the mother. That, however, is not the case with fathers, and having a father listed on the birth certificate doesn’t fully satisfy the obligation to establish paternity. A blood test indicating paternity doesn’t even fully establish legal rights unless it is filtered through the right channels.

The simplest way to establish paternity is to have both the mother and the father sign a voluntary declaration of paternity when the child is born, usually before the birth certificate is created. This form officially acknowledges the father as the baby’s legal parent and allows that father to be listed on the birth certificate and have equal rights to the child. If the voluntary declaration of paternity is signed after the birth certificate is created, the birth certificate can be re-issued listing the mother and father as the legal parents with equal rights. 

If this step is not possible for whatever reason, such as the father not being present at the birth or the mother not voluntarily acknowledging paternity, the father can ask their local child support agency through the California Department of Child Support Services to establish paternity. The agency serving the county the father resides in would open a case. This service is also available to mothers, if seeking child support from an absentee father, for example, and can be initiated before the child’s birth.

If all else fails, the father can petition the court to establish legal paternity, which is a complex and long process that would be greatly benefitted from the help of an experienced paternity attorney. This is to be seen as a last resort, for cases where a mother disputes the paternity, when one parent isn’t cooperating, or when there is a larger custody battle at play.

Family Law Attorneys Serving Temecula and Beyond

Parental rights can be complex, especially when the parents aren’t married and aren’t on the same page about parenting decisions. However, there are still ways to maintain parental rights even for unmarried fathers. Our experienced attorneys at Roberts & Zatlin can help you assert and maintain your rights to your child. Our team has a combined 35 years of experience practicing family law and we will advocate relentlessly for you and your family. Our office is located in Temecula, California, but we proudly serve the people of Menifee, Hemet, Sun City, Lake Elsinore, Winchester, Wildomar, Riverside, San Bernadino, Orange County, Vista, San Diego, through the Inland Valley, and beyond. Contact us today! Your first consultation is always free and confidential.

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