In California, when a child is born to parents that are husband and wife, the law makes the assumption that the child is conceived and born as a result of that marriage.  The husband and wife are said to be “mother” and “father” … the child’s parents.  If the parents are not legally married when the child is born, the legal status of the parents change.

Determining Paternity

According to California law, there are two ways to determine paternity of a child if the parents are not married.  The most common way is for the father to sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (VDP), according to our child custody lawyers.  This is usually done at the hospital at the time of the child’s birth, and as part of the paperwork surrounding the happy event.

The other way to determine parentage is through a court order.  In this case, the court determines who is the child’s father.  This sometimes involves a court-ordered DNA test.

This is the way throughout most of California.  In Sonoma County, it’s a bit more complicated, as several forms must be filed and answered.  How smooth or difficult this procedure is depends a lot on whether it’s contested.

The Status Quo

Several factors will be considered in a custody case hearing.  In preparation for the hearing, the attorney will evaluate the case, including history, “status quo,” and future projections for the child’s wellbeing.  The status quo considers how things are working now.  How is the child used to living their life, and sharing their parents? If the arrangement has been working well for the child, this is what the court will generally default to.  If, as a parent, you are trying to make changes in the status quo, you should be prepared to show why these current arrangements are not in the best interest of the child.

Get it In Writing

There may be an assumption that once parentage has been determined or decided, that a parent has an automatic right to see their child.  This is not so, and can depend a lot on how the parent with physical custody feels.  That’s why it’s always better to get a custody and visitation agreement in writing.  Don’t leave your relationship with your child up to someone else’s whim.  If you do not have a legal custody and visitation agreement in force, you may pay more in child support, and have less power to object to being denied visitation.  You will not have any recourse if communication between parents breaks down, and your informal agreement is not honored.

Take the Right Steps

To recap, follow the proper steps to ensure that you have a chance to parent your child and be a part of their life.  Determine parentage early, preferably at birth.  Establish a sensible support system for the child that involves both parents.  AND… get a legal agreement in writing.  This last step is important because it protects the future parent-child relationship.  Don’t leave things to chance if you are not married to your child’s other parent.

For more information, speak to our child custody attorneys today.