Establishing Parentage/Paternity

You can establish the parentage of a child if you:

When both unmarried parents sign a Declaration of Paternity, it means they are the legal parents of the child. Signing a Declaration of Paternity is voluntary.

The parents can sign a declaration at the hospital when the child is born. If the parents sign at the hospital, both parents' names will go on the child’s birth certificate, and the birth mother does not need to go to court to prove who the other parent of the child is.

The declaration can also be signed later. If the parents sign it after the child’s birth certificate has been issued, a new birth certificate can be issued with the other parent's name. Learn how to ask for a new birth certificate with the other parent's name (also available in Spanish).

You can ask for the form to be sent to you by mail by e-mailing, or you can get it at your county’s:

The Declaration of Paternity MUST be signed at one of these public agencies (unless it has been signed at the hospital) or witnessed by a notary public. Most public agencies that have the declaration forms also have a short video explaining how the voluntary Declaration of Paternity works.

Once the declaration is signed, the form must be filed with the California Department of Child Support Services Paternity Opportunity Program (POP) in order to be effective. A properly signed Declaration of Paternity has the same effect as a court order establishing parentage for the child, without anyone having to go to court.

Forms are available in English and Spanish. Click to see a sample of this form in English and to get more information about voluntary declarations of paternity. Click to see the sample form in Spanish.

After a signed Declaration of Paternity is filed with the court, the judge can make orders for custody, visitation, and support. Click if you signed a voluntary Declaration of Paternity and now want the court to make custody, visitation, or child support orders.

If you filed a Declaration of Paternity and want a copy of it, you can either complete a Request for a Filed Declaration of Paternity (CS 918) or send a letter to:

 DCSS — POP Unit
 P.O. Box 419070
 Rancho Cordova, CA 95741-9070

Learn more about getting a copy of your Declaration of Paternity.

IMPORTANT! Once paternity or parentage is established, it can be difficult or impossible to undo — even if DNA/blood tests later show that the father is not the biological parent of the child.

After parentage is established, each parent has:

  • An equal responsibility to support the child, and
  • An equal right to custody of the child.

If a parent does not meet the support obligation, the custodial parent, guardian, or local child support agency can ask the court to enforce the support orders. If a parent violates the support orders, the judge can give him or her a fine of up to $1,000 and 5 days in county jail for each violation.

Parentage and related support issues are complicated. Talk to the family law facilitator in your county or your local child support agency for more information. Click for help finding a lawyer.

What does it mean if you sign a Declaration of Paternity?
A correctly completed and signed Declaration of Paternity filed with the Department of Child Support Services will have the same effect as a court order establishing parentage for the child. If your child does not live with you and a court action is filed, you may be ordered by the court to pay child support. A court action must be filed to deal with the issues of custody, visitation, or child support.

When someone signs the Declaration of Paternity, that person is giving up important rights in the process of establishing paternity. If you sign a Declaration of Paternity, you are giving up the right to:

  • A trial in court to decide the issue of parentage;
  • Paternity (DNA or blood) tests;
  • Notice of any hearing on the issue of parentage;
  • The opportunity to present your case to the court, including the right to present and cross-examine witnesses; and
  • A lawyer to represent you.

If you change your mind after you sign a 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:

Challenging the Declaration of Paternity in court
A Declaration of Paternity may be challenged in court only in the first 2 years after the child’s birth:

  • By using blood and genetic tests that prove the man is not the biological father; OR
  • By either parent proving that he or she signed the form because of fraud or because he or she was forced to sign it.

Click  for more information on how to dispute parentage or challenge a Declaration of Paternity in court.

If you have received a Request for Hearing and Application to Set Aside Voluntary Declaration of Paternity (Form FL-280) and you want to agree or disagree, click here for instructions.

Your local child support agency can bring an action to establish the parentage of your child. As part of this action, they will ask for a child support order. This service is free.

Your local child support agency (LCSA) is part of the state Department of Child Support Services (DCSS). Every county has a local child support agency. The local agencies and the department help parents support and provide health insurance for their children.

To begin the process, call the LCSA and ask for an appointment to open a case for parentage and support. You can open a case even when the mother is still pregnant, and a genetic test can be ordered (if the other person denies being the parent) after the child is born. 

Either or both parents can ask for the services of the LCSA. Also, when one parent is on welfare for the children (for example, if they receive Cal-Works or Medi-Cal), the LCSA automatically gets involved and opens a case.

The child support section of this Online Self-Help Center has a lot more information on LCSAs and what it means to have them involved in your case.

IMPORTANT: The local child support agency (LCSA) does not represent the parents or the children. The LCSA lawyers are not your lawyers. You are not a legal client, and the information you give the LCSA is not confidential. LCSA lawyers can give certain information about your case to other agencies, the other parent, or the other parent’s employer or lawyer.

The law says the LCSA will make the final decision on child support enforcement, even if the parent getting child support disagrees.

Parents have the right to get advice from a private lawyer or legal aid group at any time and to get legal information from the court’s family law facilitator.

If you want to handle your own case to establish parentage, you will need to fill out, serve, and file several court forms. You may also need to have a trial before a judge.

Alert! This section only gives general instructions. Establishing parentage is complicated. Talk to your court’s family law facilitator. The family law facilitator can help you with the forms and tell you if your local court has special local forms, too. You can also talk to a lawyer. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Either parent can start a case to establish parentage. A parentage case also allows the parents to ask for orders about custody, visitation, and child support.

You do NOT need a parentage case if:

  • You and the other parent are unmarried but signed a voluntary Declaration of Paternity. Click if you signed a voluntary Declaration of Paternity and now want the court to make custody, visitation, or child support orders.
  • You are married to the other parent, including same-sex marriages (or are registered domestic partners).
  • The local child support agency already filed a parentage and child support case in court.
  • You and the other parent are involved in a domestic violence restraining order case, AND you both agree to parentage of your child and to the court entering a judgment about parentage. Read and use Agreement and Judgment of Parentage (Form DV-180) to do this in your restraining order case.

To start your parentage case, you should file your case in the county where your child lives or can be found. Click to find the court in that county.  If you are not sure where your child lives, you can start the case in the county where you live. But the judge may decide later that another county or state should handle the case.