Disputing Paternity

Either parent can dispute paternity of a child. In most cases, if parentage has not been established yet, a parent can ask for a paternity test to find out if the person assumed to be the father is the child’s biological father.

The laws on parentage are very complicated. If there already is a court order that says, for example, that someone is the father of the child, and he or the mother wants to ask for genetic (DNA) testing, it may be too late. Or the law may declare someone the legal father, even if the genetic tests say that he is not the biological father.

If you want to request paternity testing, talk to your family law facilitator to find out if you can and, if so, how to do it.


Cases Where Parentage/Paternity Has Not Been Established

Usually, you can ask for a paternity test at the very beginning of a case. To do this, it depends on the type of case.

If you were served with a Summons and Complaint from the LCSA (or DCSS)

If you have been served with a Summons and Complaint Regarding Parental Obligations or a Supplemental Complaint by the local child support agency (LCSA) (your papers may say Department of Child Support Services (DCSS)), you have 30 days from the date you were served to respond and ask for a paternity test. If you do not respond within the 30 days, the court may establish you as the legal parent without a paternity test.

To respond, follow these steps:

  1. Fill out your court forms
    Fill out these forms (and remember that you are the respondent):

    • Answer to Complaint or Supplemental Complaint Regarding Parental Obligations (Form FL-610).
    • If you believe you are not the child's parent, or are not sure and want to ask for a paternity test to make sure, you must check the box that says you are NOT the parent.

  2. Fill out 1 of these court forms too if the complaint asks for child support (Read Which Financial FormFL-155 or FL-150? (Form DV-570) to find out if you can use the simpler Form FL-155):
  3. Have your forms reviewed
    Ask your court's family law facilitator to review your paperwork. He or she can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case. You can also hire your own lawyer to review your papers or to get legal advice, either with your entire case, or just the parts of it that you may need more help with (called "limited scope representation" or "unbundling"). Click for help finding a lawyer. Click to learn more about "limited scope representation." 

  4. Make at least 2 copies of all your forms
    One copy will be for you; another copy will be for the LCSA. The original is for the court.

  5. Serve your papers on the LCSA
    Serve the local child support agency with a copy of your papers. You can have them served by mail or in person.

    Service is very important so you must do it correctly. And remember, a third person (NOT you) must do it. Make sure that your server (the person sending the papers for you) mails a copy and not the original because the original is for the court.

    Read the Information Sheet for Service of Process (Form FL-611) for more information on serving your Answer. Click for more information about "service."

  6. Have the person who served your Answer fill out the Proof of Service
    Have your server fill out the Proof of Service portion of the original Answer (Form FL-610), on the second page. Make sure your server fills out the right section (for personal service if he or she delivered the papers in person, or mail service if he or she mailed your papers). The server has to print and sign his or her name in the Proof of Service section.

    Once your server fills out the Proof of Service portion, he or she must return the original Answer to you.

  7. File your forms with the court clerk within 30 days of being served with the Complaint
    Turn in your original Answer (with the Proof of Service portion filled out), your copy, and any other forms to the court clerk.

    The clerk will keep the original and return the copy to you, stamped "Filed." You may have to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.

  8. The LCSA will probably set up genetic (DNA) testing for you, the child, and the other parent
    Procedures vary from county to county, but in general, you will be scheduled to provide a DNA sample. The child and other parent will also be asked for DNA samples. A lab will run the paternity test and send the result to the LCSA. Talk to your caseworker to make sure you know the timing of these events and what you need to do to follow up.


After the paternity test results

Once you get the paternity test results back, you have several options and you can talk to a lawyer to help you decide which one is best for you. You can accept the results of the paternity test or you can ask for another test (which you may have to pay for). Or, if the test results show that the person tested is not the child's parent, the case against that person may be dismissed. What choice is best for you depends on your individual situation.

Here is an example to help you understand your options:

David was unsure if he was Mary's father, so he requested genetic testing to be sure. After the test results come back, David's options are:

  • If the DNA tests say that there is a very high probability that David is Mary's father, he has the option of agreeing (stipulating) to paternity or asking for a trial on the issue of paternity.
  • If the DNA tests say there is a very low or no probability that David is Mary's father, the case against him will most likely be dismissed.
  • If David disagrees with the paternity test results, he may be able to ask for a second paternity test in another lab, but he may have to pay for it.

Ask your family law facilitator for help with any of these steps or if you just need to know what to do next.

If you were served with a petition filed by the other parent

If you have been served with a Petition to Establish Parental Relationship by the other parent, you have 30 days from the date you were served to respond. If you do not respond within the 30 days, the court may establish the legal relationship requested in the petition without a paternity test.

To respond, follow these steps:

  1. Fill out your court forms
    Fill out these forms (remember, you are the respondent):
    • Response to Petition to Establish Parental Relationship (Form FL-220).
    • Make sure you check box 5c if you are not sure if you are the child's parent and box 5d if you are sure you are NOT the child's parent.
    • If you are the mother and want the petitioner (the man claiming to be the father) to get a paternity test, check box 2c.
    • You may have also received a blank Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Form FL-105/GC-120 | video instructions ). If you are asking for a paternity test, you do not have to fill it out at this point. If you agree to paternity, fill out this form as well.


  2. Have your forms reviewed
    Ask your court's family law facilitator to review your paperwork. He or she can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case. You can also hire your own lawyer to review your papers or to get legal advice, either with your entire case, or just the parts of it that you may need more help with (called "limited scope representation" or "unbundling"). Click for help finding a lawyer. Click to learn more about "limited scope representation." 

  3. Make at least 2 copies of all your forms
    One copy will be for you; another copy will be for your child's other parent. The original is for the court.

  4. File your forms with the court clerk within 30 days of being served with the Petition
    Turn in your forms to the court clerk. He or she will keep the original and return the copies to you, stamped "Filed." One copy is for you and the other is for the petitioner (the other parent). You will have to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver

  5. Serve your papers on the other parent
    Serve a copy of the Response to Petition to Establish Parental Relationship (FL-220), and any other papers you attached, on the other parent. You can have someone (NOT you) serve it by mail or in person.

    Click for more information about "service of process." You can have this form served on the other parent before the clerk stamps it — just make sure you do not serve the original.

  6. File your proof of service
    Have the server (person who served your papers) fill out a proof of service form. He or she should fill out a Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330) if he or she served the other parent in person. Or have the server fill out a Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) if he or she served the other parent by mail.

    Then, file the proof of service form with the clerk. (If you had the other parent served with an unstamped copy of the Response to Petition to Establish Parental Relationship, you can file the original of the response together with the proof of service.)

    If you are disputing paternity and requesting paternity testing or a trial on the issue of paternity, your case will be considered a "contested" case. Contested cases can be complicated.

    In most courts, the petitioner or you have to file and serve a form to set a trial date. Also, most courts usually require the parents to attend a settlement conference before the trial. Ask the court clerk what your next step should be and whether there are any special local forms you need to fill out. Click to find your local court.


Alert! If you are in a contested case, talk to a family law facilitator or a lawyer. Click for help finding a lawyer. This Online Self-Help Center cannot help you with contested cases because the steps required vary a lot depending on the individual circumstances in your case. These cases can be very complicated. 

Cases Where Both Parents Signed a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity

Canceling the voluntary Declaration of Paternity
If you or the other parent change your mind after signing the Declaration of Paternity, you must complete a Declaration of Paternity Rescission (Form CS 915) to rescind (cancel) the Declaration of Paternity.

You must file the rescission form with the Department of Child Support Services within 60 days from the date you signed the Declaration of Paternity. Only 1 parent needs to sign and file the form, but the other parent must be formally notified by certified mail with return receipt requested.

You can also get Form CS 915 from your county’s:

You CANNOT use the rescission form and will need to go to court to cancel the Declaration of Paternity if:

  • More than 60 days have passed since you signed the Declaration of Paternity, or
  • Someone, like the other parent or the local child support agency (LCSA) has started a court case using the Declaration of Paternity. For example, a parent cannot file the rescission form (Form CS 915) if the other parent asks the court for child support based on the declaration.

If you can no longer use the rescission procedure for the voluntary Declaration of Paternity and still want to try to cancel it, read the next section.


Going to court to set aside (cancel) a voluntary Declaration of Paternity
If you cannot file Form CS 915, you must go to court to try to cancel the voluntary Declaration of Paternity. The court will not automatically grant your request to cancel the Declaration of Paternity. You must prove to the court that you have a good reason to cancel the declaration you signed.

Alert! This section gives general instructions only. Bringing a court action to set aside a voluntary Declaration of Paternity is complicated. Talk to your court’s family law facilitator or to a lawyer. Click for help finding a lawyer.


To file a request to cancel the Declaration of Paternity

1. Fill out Form FL-280

  • Fill out a Request for Hearing and Application to Set Aside Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (Form FL-280).
  • Read the Information Sheet for Completing Request for Hearing and Application to Set Aside Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (Form FL-281). It has detailed instructions to help you fill out Form FL-280.
  • If there currently is no case based on your voluntary Declaration of Paternity, you are the “Petitioner/Plaintiff” and the other parent is the “Respondent/Defendant.” Leave the case number blank on your Form FL-280.
  • If there is an existing order, judgment, or legal action filed in court based on your voluntary Declaration of Paternity, your application will be part of that case. When you fill out your Form FL-280, use the same names for the “Petitioner” and “Respondent” or “Other Parent” and the case number shown on the papers you received in that case.


2. Get help filling out your forms or have them reviewed
 Ask your court’s family law facilitator to help you with your paperwork or review it after you fill it out. He or she can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case.


3. Make at least 3 copies of all your forms
 One copy will be for you; another copy will be for the LCSA. The third copy is for the other parent in the case. The original is for the court.


4. File your forms with the court clerk
Turn in your Request for Hearing and Application (Form FL-280) and all copies to the court clerk. The clerk will keep the original and return the copies to you, stamped “Filed.” The clerk will write the date, time, and place for your court hearing on your copies.

 You may have to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.


5. Serve your papers on the other parent and the LCSA (if applicable)

  • Serve a copy of your papers on the other parent in the case. When you serve the other parent also include a blank Responsive Declaration to Application to Set Aside Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (Form FL-285).
  • Serve the local child support agency with a copy of your papers if they are involved in this case (usually, when they are the “Petitioner” in the case).
  • Have the LCSA and the other parent served in person at least 16 days before the court hearing (unless page 1 of Form FL-280 in the “Order” box says time is shortened for the hearing or service; in that case, follow those deadlines).
  • If there is already an open court case that you are using to file this request, you can have them served by mail, but then they need to be served at least 21 days before the hearing.
  • Service is very important so you must do it correctly. And remember, a third person (NOT you) must do it.
  • Read the Information Sheet for Service of Process (Form FL-611) for more information on serving your Request. Clickor more information about “service."


6. File your proofs of service
 Have your server fill out a Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330) for the other parent in the case and 1 for the LCSA if they are involved. If the other parent (or the LCSA) is served by mail, your server fills out a Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335).

 File the proofs of service with the court. It is very important that your server fills out the proofs of service correctly. If possible, have your court’s family law facilitator review them to make sure they were filled out properly.


7.  Go to your court hearing
The date, time, and location of the hearing are shown on the line 2 of the form FL-280 the court clerk gave you.

Take the Order After Hearing on Motion to Set Aside Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (Form FL-290) with you when you go to the hearing. Before the hearing, fill out the name and address boxes at the top this form.

See Going to Court to read more information about how to prepare for your court hearing.


After the hearing
If the judge approves your application
, you and the other parent each must have a genetic (DNA) test. For example,

  • If the genetic tests show that the father listed on the Declaration of Paternity cannot be the child’s father, the judge will make an order saying this person is not the father.
  • If the tests show that the father on the declaration is the child’s father, all court orders based on the declaration will remain in effect. The declaration can also be used to ask for orders for child custody, visitation, or child support.


If the judge does not approve your application, all court orders based on the Declaration of Paternity will remain in effect. The declaration can be used to ask for orders for child custody, visitation, or child support.

 

Answering an application to set aside (cancel) a voluntary Declaration of Paternity

If you have been served with a Request for Hearing and Application to Set Aside Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (Form FL-280) and you want to agree or disagree, you need to:

1. Fill out Form FL-285

  • Fill out the Responsive Declaration to Application to Set Aside Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (Form FL-285).
  • Read the back of Form FL-285, which is the Information Sheet for Completing Responsive Declaration to Application to Set Aside Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (Form FL-285). It has detailed instructions to help you fill out the front of Form FL-285.

2. Get help filling out your forms or have them reviewed
 Ask your court’s family law facilitator to help you with your paperwork or review it after you fill it out. He or she can make sure you filled it out properly before you move ahead with your case.

3. Make at least 3 copies of all your forms
 One copy will be for you; another copy will be for the local child support agency (LCSA). The third copy is for parent who filed the application. The original is for the court.

4. File your forms with the court clerk
Turn in your Responsive Declaration to Application (Form FL-285) and all copies to the court clerk. The clerk will keep the original and return the copies to you, stamped “Filed.” The clerk will write the date, time, and place for your court hearing on your copies.

 You may have to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford the fee, you can ask for a fee waiver.

5. Serve your papers on the other parent and the LCSA (if applicable)

  • Serve a copy of your Responsive Declaration on the other parent in the case.
  • Serve the local child support agency with a copy of your papers if they are involved in this case (usually, when they are the “Petitioner” in the case).
  • Have the other parent (and the LCSA if involved) served by mail at least 9 days before the hearing.
  • Service is very important so you must do it correctly. And remember, a third person (NOT you) must do it.
  • Read the Information Sheet for Service of Process (Form FL-611) for more information on serving your Responsive Declaration. Click for more information about “service.”

6. File your proofs of service
 Have your server fill out a Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) for the other parent in the case and for the LCSA if they are involved.

 File the proofs of service with the court. It is very important that your server fills out the proofs of service correctly. If possible, have your court’s family law facilitator review them to make sure they were filled out properly.

7.  Go to your court hearing
The date, time, and location of the hearing are shown on the line 2 of the Form FL-280 the other parent served you with.

For your hearing:

  • Take the Order After Hearing on Motion to Set Aside Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (Form FL-290) with you when you go to the hearing. Before the hearing, fill out the name and address boxes at the top this form.


See Going to Court to read more information about how to prepare for your court hearing.


After the hearing
If the judge approves the application
, you and the other parent each must have a genetic (DNA) test. For example,

  • If the genetic tests show that the father listed on the Declaration of Paternity cannot be the child’s father, the judge will make an order saying this person is not the father.
  • If the tests show that the father on the declaration is the child’s father, all court orders based on the declaration will remain in effect. The declaration can also be used to ask for orders for child custody, visitation, or child support.

If the judge does not approve the application, all court orders based on the Declaration of Paternity will remain in effect. The declaration can be used to ask for orders for child custody, visitation, or child support.

Cases Where Parentage Has Already Been Established by a Court Order

When a court has already determined that someone is the legal parent of a child, it is often too late to dispute paternity. There are very few exceptions and these cases are very complicated legally. If you find out that there is a judgment of paternity, or a judgment for child support against you, contact a lawyer or your local family law facilitator immediately. He or she will be able to help you figure out if there is anything you can do and, if so, may be able to guide you through the process or direct you to someone who can help you. The paperwork that you will have to file involves complicated legal motions that you should NOT try to file on your own.

Cases Where Parentage Is Presumed Because the Parents Were Married

A child born during a marriage is presumed (assumed) to be a child of the marriage, and the husband and wife (or, after January 1, 2005, domestic partners) are the legal parents. This is called a “conclusive presumption” which means that the presumption (that the child is a child of the married couple) cannot be disproved, even if there is evidence to disprove it. Read Family Code section 7540 for the law about this presumption.

There are very limited exceptions to this rule, and they can be very complicated to figure out. If you are married and have a child that you are not sure is your biological child, talk to a lawyer. A lawyer will be able to help you figure out if you have a legal basis to dispute paternity and, even if you can do it legally, if you should do it based on other considerations. Click for help finding a lawyer.

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