How To Establish Parentage (Paternity) in California

Parentage is more than just a term that defines whom a child calls “dad” or “mom.” It is a legal concept that determines who holds the legal responsibility for a child. In parentage cases, courts make official declarations and define who a child’s legal parents are. This not only helps in resolving custody concerns but also plays a significant role in addressing financial issues and other legal matters related to the child’s well-being.

How is Parentage Typically Defined?

The definition of parentage can be relatively straightforward when a woman gives birth in a hospital or a controlled environment; she is usually considered the child’s legal mother. However, determining the legal parentage of the other partner is not always so simple.

In most cases, courts consider the following three categories as legal parents:

Married Couples

If a partner is married to the child’s birth mother when the baby is conceived or born, that partner is typically recognized as the child’s other legal parent. Notably, this rule applies to both same-sex and different-sex couples in California.

Couples Using Assisted Reproduction

California’s Uniform Parentage Act allows same-sex and different-sex partners to use the Declaration of Parentage process to legally establish the child’s parents. This process remains valid even if the sperm or egg used to create the child does not come from the spouse of the birth parent.

Unmarried Partners

If a man welcomes a child into his home and takes on the role of a parent, he is considered the child’s legal father, even if he is not the child’s biological father.

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Reasons to Establish Parentage

Establishing parentage is not just a bureaucratic process; it serves essential purposes that benefit both the child and the parents involved. Here are four significant reasons to go through the parentage establishment process:

Divorcing Couples

Before courts can make decisions on custody, visitation, or child support, it is critical to establish parentage. This is especially important in the case of divorcing couples, as it simplifies the divorce process and ensures proper legal arrangements for the child.

Same-Sex Couples

Unmarried same-sex couples may need to establish parentage to address various legal concerns. Establishing parentage allows one partner to make medical decisions for the child, provide health insurance coverage, and take on legal responsibilities for the child.

Couples with Assets

Parentage is essential for a child to inherit financial benefits and other assets from their legal parents. This includes Social Security payouts, survivor benefits, and even U.S. citizenship.

Couples in Need of Support

A legal parent is obligated by law to provide financial support to their child. Some couples choose to go through the parentage process to ensure that the other party is legally required to make child support payments.

How to Establish Parentage

Parentage is a legal term, and it cannot simply be established by declaring it verbally. Couples have two pathways to establish parentage:

Without the Court

If both parents agree, they can establish parentage by signing a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage (VDOP) form. Once the form is signed and submitted to the courthouse in their county, a judge can sign a court order to establish parentage.

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With the Court

In situations where both parents do not agree or do not wish to be parents, a judge can decide on the child’s legal parents. The process involves filling out three required forms:

  • Petition to Determine Parental Relationship (FL-200)
  • Summons: Uniform Parentage – Petition for Custody and Support (FL-210)
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105/GC-120)

After filling out the forms and making two copies, they should be submitted to the court clerk along with a filing fee ranging from $435 to $450. The court clerk will stamp the forms and return the copies. Following this, someone at least 18 years old and not associated with the case must deliver the papers to the person being defined as the child’s parent. This process is known as “serving papers,” and the other person has 30 days to respond.


Parentage plays a crucial role in establishing legal responsibilities and rights for a child’s parents. Whether it’s for divorcing couples, same-sex partners, couples with assets, or those in need of support, establishing parentage is essential for ensuring a child’s well-being and securing their future. Understanding the process of establishing parentage is vital for couples seeking to define their roles as legal parents.


  1. Is parentage the same as custody?

No, parentage and custody are related but distinct legal concepts. Parentage defines who is legally recognized as a child’s parent, while custody pertains to the physical and legal rights and responsibilities of caring for the child.

  1. Can I establish parentage if the other parent is absent or uncooperative?
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Yes, you can establish parentage even if the other parent is absent or uncooperative. You can seek the court’s intervention to determine parentage in such situations.

  1. How long does the parentage establishment process usually take?

The duration of the parentage establishment process can vary based on individual circumstances and court schedules. It may take a few weeks to several months to complete the process.

  1. What if I’m unsure about the biological parentage of the child?

Parentage can be established based on legal criteria, even if the biological parentage is uncertain. Courts focus on the legal relationship between the child and the individual seeking parentage status.

  1. Can parentage be established for adult children?

Parentage is typically established for minor children. However, in some cases, it may be possible to establish parentage for adult children, depending on the specific legal requirements in the jurisdiction.

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