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Understanding How a Parentage Case Begins in California for Unmarried Parents

Posted by Michael Geller | Feb 01, 2024 | 0 Comments

In California, establishing parentage, often referred to as paternity or parentage, is essential for unmarried parents. This process ensures that the legal rights and responsibilities of both parents towards their child are recognized and enforced. Here's a detailed look at how a parentage case starts in California when parents are unmarried.

1. Understanding Parentage

Before diving into the process, it's crucial to understand what parentage means. Parentage is the legal recognition of a parental relationship between a child and their biological or adoptive parent. Establishing parentage is important for several reasons: it affects child custody, visitation rights, child support, and inheritance rights.

2. Voluntary Declaration of Parentage

One of the simplest ways to establish parentage is through a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage (VDOP). This is a form that both parents can sign voluntarily, usually at the hospital when the child is born. By signing this form, both parents acknowledge that they are the child's legal parents. The VDOP has the same effect as a court order once it is filed with the California Department of Child Support Services (DCSS).

3. Filing a Petition

If parentage is not established voluntarily, either parent or the child (through a guardian) can initiate a parentage case by filing a Petition to Establish Parental Relationship (Form FL-200) in the Superior Court of California. This form asks the court to legally determine who the child's parents are. The petition must include details about the child, the parents, and the relationship between the parents.

4. Serving the Other Parent

After filing the petition, the petitioner must serve the other parent with the court papers. This means delivering copies of the filed petition and a summons. Service can be done by a process server, a sheriff, or anyone over 18 who is not involved in the case. The respondent (the other parent) then has 30 days to respond to the petition.

5. Responding to the Petition

The other parent (respondent) responds by filing a Response to Petition to Establish Parental Relationship (Form FL-220). This form allows the respondent to agree or disagree with the statements in the petition. If the respondent agrees, the case may move towards a judgment more smoothly. If there are disagreements, the case might go to a court hearing.

6. Genetic Testing

If there is a dispute about parentage, the court may order genetic testing. Both parents and the child will need to provide DNA samples, which are analyzed to determine biological parentage. If the tests show a high probability of parentage, the court will use this evidence to make a determination.

7. Court Hearings

In cases where there are disagreements or complications, multiple court hearings may be required. During these hearings, both parties can present evidence and argue their case. The court considers all evidence, including genetic test results, to make a determination of parentage.

8. Final Judgment

Once the court has reviewed all evidence and hearings, it will issue a judgment of parentage. This judgment legally establishes who the parents are and can include orders for child custody, visitation, and child support. Both parents are then legally recognized and responsible for their child.

9. After Establishing Parentage

After parentage is established, both parents have the right to seek custody and visitation, and the child has the right to financial support from both parents. The judgment also allows the child to inherit from both parents and may enable them to receive benefits through either parent.


Establishing parentage in California for unmarried parents involves several steps, from voluntary agreements to court hearings and genetic testing. Understanding this process is crucial for protecting the rights and responsibilities of both parents and ensuring the welfare of the child. If you are facing a parentage case, consulting with a family law attorney can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation and help navigate the complexities of the legal system.

About the Author

Michael Geller

Michael Geller is an attorney licensed by the State Bar of California.


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