A Paternity lawsuit is a legal proceeding that allows unmarried parents to resolve issues similar to those dealt with in a dissolution proceeding but is limited to the issues of custody and visitation and child support.

Establishing “parentage” means establishing the identity of the child’s parents. A parentage action begins by one party filing a “Complaint to Establish Parental Relationship” with the court. The party filing the complaint is known as the “plaintiff” and the other party is the “defendant.” Similar to a dissolution proceeding, a parentage action ends with a “Judgment” which will contain orders from the court relating to every issue raised in the case. Such a judgment may be obtained by default, by agreement of the parties, or after a trial.

Temporary orders from the court are also available in parentage actions. Once parentage is established, issues such as child custody, support and visitation will be handled under the same rules as they are in a dissolution proceeding.

California law authorizes blood tests in cases where parentage is disputed. The mother, child, and alleged father will be required to submit to these blood tests. If a party refuses to submit to blood tests then the court has the power to resolve the parentage issue against that party.

In some cases blood tests are not admissible evidence because of a statutory presumption of parentage. If, for example, the mother in a parentage action was married and living with her husband at the time of conception, the child is conclusively presumed to be the child of the marriage.

Similarly, a father who has voluntarily signed a parentage declaration at the hospital where the child is born may be conclusively presumed to be the father of the child. This conclusive presumption may also be rebutted in some cases if it is challenged within three years from the date the declaration was signed.

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