How Can I Get Parentage Rights if We’re Not Married?

My ex-girlfriend is pregnant with our child, but she refuses to speak to me right now, and I’m worried I won’t be able to see our child when he’s born. What can I do?

In cases where the parents are unmarried, it is important to seek out the advice and potential representation of a lawyer, as these cases can be fairly adversarial, complex, and require at least one court appearance. These cases are called parentage or paternity cases, and require the court to make a determination of the child’s legal parents., This can be more difficult in a case where the parents are not married when the child is born. In those cases, the child does not have a legal father until the parentage is established by a court. Even if the father can prove that he is the biological parent to the child, he will not have any rights or duties to the child – including visitation or child support – unless his parentage is established legally, which will require court intervention.

Once a person is established as the legal parent of the child, he or she will be able to request custody and visitation rights and will be responsible for child support. You must ask the court for an order outlining your custodial rights, and a specific schedule to visit your child. Once an order is established, the parties must follow and respect the order, or they can be held in contempt, which can be punished by fines and jail time in California.

The failure of a parent to financially support his or her child is also a crime in the state of California. The rights and duties a parent can enjoy once parentage is established are the right to have their name on the child’s birth certificate and access to the medical records and history of the child.  Similarly, the child will establish the right to inherit from said parents, as well as receive any social security or veteran’s benefits as applicable.

There are two ways to establish parentage. The first is by voluntarily signing a document.  A parent can sign a Paternity Opportunity Program (POP) form at the hospital, or a Declaration of Paternity, which establishes both parents who sign the document as the legal parents of the child. It must be a voluntary signature to be valid. In a case where the biological mother is already being uncooperative, this may not be a viable option, particularly if she does not want the father to be involved in her child’s life. In that case, a Petition to Establish Parentage should be filed with the court. This will sometimes involve genetic or DNA testing to confirm the paternity of the child, which can cost a lot of money, depending on who administers the test.

There is not much you can do until the child is actually born, so for now, act practically. Keep reaching out to the mother – ask her when her next check-ups are, and ask if she needs anything for the baby.  Offering to make financial contributions could help your case. Courts will look favorably upon a parent who is involved from the beginning, and keeping receipts for items bought for the child or offering to split the cost of the mother’s prenatal expenses will grant you a lot of goodwill from the court. If you have a good relationship with any of your ex-girlfriend’s family members, reach out to them as well and see if you can stay updated on the mother’s and child’s health. Try to keep things in writing, like text messages. Once the child is born, act quickly to ensure your rights are protected and you can begin visits and bonding with the baby. When the baby is a newborn, courts will likely only offer short periods of visitation, especially if the mother is breastfeeding. Have patience, and follow the court orders to the ‘T,’ and never miss an opportunity for visitation. If you are truly serious about being involved in the child’s life, you will start immediately and learn to co-parent – even if the mother of your child makes it difficult. It will serve you well in the long run.

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