Children of unmarried parents do not have a legal father until parentage is established. Even if a father can prove he is the biological father of a child, he does not have any legal rights or responsibilities if he was never married to the mother—until parentage is established. Thus, in parentage cases (also known as “paternity cases”), the court makes orders establishing who a child’s legal parents are.


Before the court can issue any orders regarding custody, visitation or child support, a child’s parentage must be established legally, which means:

  1. Obtaining a court order, or
  2. Signing a voluntary Declaration of Paternity (this is a California governmental form that, when signed by both parents, establishes them as the legal parents of the child).

After a signed Declaration of Paternity is filed with the court, a party can request orders regarding custody, visitation (parenting time) and child support by completing and filing a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children and related documents.


If a parent is unwilling to sign a Declaration of Paternity, the other parent can initiate a parentage case with the court by completing and filing the following forms:

  • Petition to Establish Parental Relationship
  • Summons (Uniform Parentage—Petition for Custody and Support)
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)
  • Income and Expense Declaration (only if a parent is seeking child support)

The parent (named the “Petitioner”) must then serve a filed copy of the Petition and related documents upon the other parent.


Within 30 days of being served with the Petition and related documents, the Respondent (the other parent who was served) must file and serve his or her Response and related documents, which consist of the following:

  • Response to Petition to Establish Parental Relationship
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)
  • Income and Expense Declaration (only if a parent is seeking child support).


If parentage has not been established, either parent can request a genetic (DNA) test to confirm whether someone is the biological father before any court orders are made.


After parentage is established, a parent can seek court orders regarding the following:

  • Child custody
  • Visitation (parenting time)
  • Child support
  • Health insurance
  • Name change
  • Reimbursement of pregnancy and birth expenses

However, without initially establishing parentage, the court cannot make any orders regarding these issues. For example, if one parent needs child support and the other parent will not pay voluntarily, the court cannot order child support against the other parent until parentage is established.


The law on parentage can be complicated.  Contact us today for a free, confidential phone consultation so we can carefully guide you through the process.