22 Jan What is California’s Paternity Opportunity Program?
In a study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (att), 36% of first-time fathers were unmarried in the 2000’s. Although this indicated a slight decrease from the previous two decades, it still illustrates just how many fathers were going into parenthood for the first time without first saying, “I do.”
For some fathers, this can lead to difficulties when it comes to being involved in their children’s lives. In the absence of marriage, fathers are not automatically granted legal rights over their children. To gain these rights, they must go through the process of acknowledging paternity.
In the state of California, there has been great progress in making this as easy as possible for both unwed fathers and mothers.
Since California, and many other states, adopted the Paternity Opportunity Program (POP), non-married parent are given the opportunity to voluntarily establish paternity without having to go to court.
How the Paternity Opportunity Program Can Help
When a husband and wife have a child, the husband is automatically considered to be the child’s father. Since this isn’t the case for unmarried parents, programs like POP make it much easier for children born outside of a marriage to become legitimized.
Established in January 1995, POP is available in more than 300 California hospitals and birthing facilities. Through POP, mothers and fathers can sign a Declaration of Paternity before leaving the hospital, or at any time after the child’s birth. This affords the child the same rights as if he or she was born to married parents.
The program has been so successful that it has also been expanded to public assistance offices, prenatal clinics, local courts and vital records offices throughout California.
Why It’s Important to Create a Legal Link
When the paternity of a child is declared, a legal link is created between the father and the child. This grants the child certain privileges that otherwise would be unavailable to them including:
- Access to each parent’s medical history and records
- Ability to inherit from their father
- Support from two parents
- Health insurance coverage options from either parent
- Legal documents, including birth certificate, that state the names of both parents
- Potential to receive veterans benefits and/or social security benefits
For a child, the benefits of having parentage legally established go far beyond financial support. As such, unwed parents are strongly encouraged to voluntarily work together to establish paternity as soon as possible so that their children may receive the privileges that come with it.
However, unmarried parents cannot always come to paternity agreements amicably. In these cases, it may be necessary to go through the courts.
When Parents Can’t Voluntarily Agree
For mothers or fathers finding it difficult to voluntarily establish paternity, a family law attorney can help in the process of establishing paternity. An attorney can advise parents on the steps they can take to legally determine parentage and can petition the court to being the process.
It is an unmarried man’s legal right to ask for a DNA test to definitively determine if he is the biological father of a child. When a DNA test is necessary to prove parentage, California parents have a couple of options available to them.
If both parties agree to the test, they can go to the Department of Child Support services where a test can usually be conducted for free. However, if a court order is necessary to obtain a DNA test from the named parents, the costs can run hundreds of dollars.
Once the DNA test results are in, and paternity confirmed, the process of establishing support and custody can begin.
The Importance of Legal Fatherhood
With the help of POP and various services readily available throughout California at state and county offices, it’s never been easier or more convenient for unwed mothers and fathers to legally establish parentage of their children. Establishing paternity not only creates a legal link between father and child, it is an important determination that looks out for the best interest of the child.