Presumed vs. Alleged Paternity and Child Custody in California

Paternity, sometimes referred to as parentage, is fundamental to child custody cases in California. Only legally recognized parents have the automatic right to custody over their children. All other parties must either establish parentage or initiate a child custody dispute in court to prove that the legal parents cannot safely care for the children before receiving custody rights.

As such, establishing parentage is critical if you want your children to benefit from the emotional and financial support of two parents. The problem is that multiple types of paternity are recognized by the state. Each of these grants the recipient different rights toward their possible children. 

Types of Paternity in California

There are several court classifications used in parentage cases in California. The simplest is the biological mother. This person, regardless of gender identity or sex, provided the egg for the child in question. Outside of surrogacy cases, this is usually also the person who gestated and delivered the baby. Identifying this person is simple, so parentage claims regarding biological mothers are rare. 

However, there are many other ways that families may be formed in California. To account for these alternatives, the state also recognizes the following three classifications:

  • Presumed parents
  • Alleged parents
  • Biological fathers

The specific classification into which someone falls determines their rights toward the children in question.

Presumed Parents

Most parents are granted rights and responsibilities toward their children under presumed parenthood. Someone may become a presumed parent if:

  • Their name is listed on the child’s birth certificate, such as with married couples or unmarried parents who voluntarily sign a declaration of parentage.
  • A family court order established the relationship, such as in adoption.
  • The person has demonstrated a pattern of raising the child as their own, regardless of their legal or biological relationship. This may grant family members and even unrelated parties presumed parenthood if the birth parents do not remain in the child’s life.

A presumed parent has full legal rights to custody and child support, unless they terminate or are stripped of their rights by the court. 

Alleged Parents

When a biological mother is unmarried, they may be the only presumed parent. This may occur if no one else voluntarily signs a declaration of parentage or the mother refuses to let someone else sign it. However, the mother may choose to identify someone as the biological father. Similarly, potential fathers may choose to file a claim seeking parental rights. 

The potential father is identified as an “alleged” parent in both cases. In these situations, the person who did not begin the claim may voluntarily accept the alleged parent’s standing. For instance, an alleged father can attend the dependency hearing and agree to be named as a presumed parent, or a biological mother may confirm that the alleged parent is the biological father. 

However, if either party disputes the matter, the court will likely order a DNA test. If the test determines that the alleged parent is the child’s biological parent, the court will grant them the rights and responsibilities of a presumed parent. 

Until the matter is completed, alleged parents receive few rights toward the children. They have the right to receive notice of dependency hearings and to argue their case for or against their parentage of the children in question. However, they receive no additional rights until they are named presumed parents.

Biological Fathers

Biological fathers are people who either have genetic tests that prove that they are the other biological parent of the child or have received a paternity judgment from a family court. It is possible for children to have two presumed parents as well as a biological father. 

Biological fathers do not automatically receive the same rights and responsibilities as presumed parents. California courts prioritize actions over genetics. If a couple has raised a child as their own, a biological father cannot supersede either presumed parent’s right to continue raising that child. 

However, biological fathers have the right to receive notice of dependency hearings. Additionally, they may argue that they should be granted presumed parenthood if there is no second presumed parent. In rare cases, they may even petition to become the child’s third recognized parent if the court finds it would be in the child’s best interest.

Supporting Paternity Claims in California

If you are preparing to file a parentage claim in California, you must understand how state courts decide paternity actions. All child custody and parentage cases are determined based on the child’s best interests. According to Family Code Section 3011, this requires the court to consider the following:

  • The child’s health, safety, and welfare
  • The current amount and nature of contact between the child and people seeking custody
  • Any history of abuse by any party seeking custody rights
  • Any history of drug abuse by parties seeking custody

In general, the courts consider having at least two presumed parents to be in the best interest of the children. However, this does not counteract the facts of the case. If an alleged parent can demonstrate that they are the child’s genetic parent or have been raising the child as their own, they have a strong chance of being named one of the child’s presumed parents. However, the case becomes more difficult without a genetic relationship or a history of raising the child. 

Legal Counsel for California Parentage Claims

If you are preparing to file a California parentage claim, working with a skilled family law attorney is in your best interest. At Madigan & Lewis LLP, our knowledgeable lawyers have years of experience representing clients of all genders in parentage cases. We are prepared to provide you with legal counsel designed to achieve the best possible outcome from your claim. Learn more about how we can assist you by scheduling your consultation today. 

The material contained herein has been prepared by Madigan & Lewis, LLP for informational purposes only, not legal advice. This information is not intended to create – and receipt of it does not constitute – a lawyer-client relationship between Madigan & Lewis, LLP and the reader. This website is intended to provide information about our law firm and its services and is not guaranteed to be up-to-date or complete. Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.