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. 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.

Parentage and paternity cases

These cases are called parentage or paternity cases, and they require the court to make a determination of the child’s legal parents.

This can be difficult in cases where the parents are unmarried 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 he is the biological parent of 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 requires court intervention.

How to establish parentage

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 legal parents of the child. The signatures must be voluntary to be valid.

In a case where the biological mother of the newborn is 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 may 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.

Requesting visitation and custody

Once a person is established as the legal parent of a child, they can 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. If they don’t, they can be held in contempt, which is punishable with fines and jail time in California.

Failure to provide support

The failure of a parent to financially support their child is a crime in the state of California. The rights and duties a parent can enjoy once parentage is established include 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 and to receive Social Security or veteran’s benefits, if applicable.

Our advice

To the writer of the question above, there is not much you can do until the child is actually born. 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.

Involve yourself from the start
  • Offer to make financial contributions. This could help your case. Keep receipts for items bought for the child, or offer to split the cost of the mother’s prenatal expenses. These actions can grant you a lot of goodwill from the court. Try to keep things in writing as much as possible, too.
  • Reach out to her family. If you have a good relationship with any of your ex-girlfriend’s family members, reach out to them as well to see if you can stay updated on the health of the mother and child.
  • Be ready. When the child is born, act quickly to make sure your rights are protected and you can begin visiting and bonding with the baby.

When the baby is a newborn, the court will likely only offer short periods of visitation, especially if the mother is breastfeeding.

Have patience. Follow court orders to the tee. Never miss an opportunity for visitation.

If you are truly serious about being involved in the child’s life, 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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