How To Establish Parentage (Paternity) in California

Parentage is more than defining whom a child calls "dad." This term describes who is legally responsible for a child. 

In parentage cases, courts make official declarations and define who a child's legal parents are. Those rules could help couples work through custody concerns, payment problems, and more. 

How is parentage typically defined?

A woman who gives birth in a hospital or controlled situation is typically considered the child's mother. Determining the other partner isn't always easy.

In some cases, courts can make quick decisions about parentage. People in the following three categories are typically considered parents by the legal system: 

Married couples 

If a partner is married to the child's birth mother when the baby was conceived or born, that partner is typically considered the child's other legal parent. In California, this rule applies to both same-sex and different-sex couples. 

Couples using assisted reproduction

California's Uniform Parentage Act allows same-sex and different-sex partners to use the Declaration of Parentage process to define a child's legal parents. This process applies even when the sperm or egg made to create the child doesn't come from the spouse of the birth parent. 

Unmarried partners 

If a man welcomes a child into his home and acts as though the child is his own, he is considered the child's legal father (even if that man isn't the child's biological father). 

Read: How Can I Get Parental Rights in California If We're Not Married?

4 reasons to establish parentage 

It takes time and some paperwork to establish paternity in California. But there are several good reasons to move through the process. 

Divorcing couples

Before courts can make orders on custody, visitation, or child support, establishing parentage is critical. Some couples must codify parentage to make the divorce process simpler. 

Same-sex couples

If parents aren't married when the woman gets pregnant or when the child is born, couples may need to establish parentage. One partner may need to make medical decisions, place a child on health insurance, or otherwise take legal responsibility for the child.

Couples with assets

A child can inherit and get financial benefits from their legal parents. For example, a child could tap into the following:

  • Social Security payouts 
  • Survivor benefits
  • U.S. citizenship 

Parentage makes this possible. 

Couples who need support

A legal parent is required by law to financially support a child. Some couples move through parentage processes in order to require the other party to make child support payments.

Suggested: Understanding California's Third Parent Law

How to establish parentage

Parentage is a legal term, and it's not something people can simply name or state out loud to make possible. Two pathways exist that couples can use. 

Without the court

You and the other parent can establish parentage if you both sign a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage (VDOP) form. This document is free. Once you sign it and take it to the courthouse in your county, a judge can sign a court order and establish parentage. 

With the court 

A judge can decide who a child's legal parents are, even if those people don't want to be parents or don’t think that the child is theirs. 

Three forms are required:

  • Petition to Determine Parental Relationship (FL-200)
  • Summons: Uniform Parentage – Petition for Custody and Support (FL-210)
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105/GC-120)

Fill out each one and make two copies of them. Bring them to the court clerk at the courthouse in your California county. Give the original and the copies to the clerk, and pay a $435 to $450 filing fee. The clerk will stamp your forms and return the copies to you. 

Next, find someone who is at least 18 years old and not associated with the case to deliver the papers to the person you want defined as your child's parent. This process is called "serving papers," and the other person has 30 days to respond. 

Once you have served papers, your DIY process is complete. You'll need a lawyer to help you complete a court case to define paternity. You can't do this alone. 



Parentage (Paternity). Judicial Branch of California. 
Same-Sex Parents. State of California. 
Parentage in California. Judicial Branch of California. 
Start a Parentage Case. Judicial Branch of California. 
File Your Parentage Petition and Summons. Judicial Branch of California. 
Serve Your Parentage Papers. Judicial Branch of California.
Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.