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What is the Paternity Opportunity Program in California?

Posted By Edwin Castellanos || 27-Feb-2014

In California, establishing legal paternity for a child can be a complicated process when there are children born out of wedlock. The easiest way for unmarried parents to establish paternity is to get married.However, there is another method for establishing paternity for unmarried parents in California, and it is referred to as the Paternity Opportunity Program (also known as the “POP” Program).

As we said earlier, getting married is the easiest way to legitimize a child under the law in California. Under the California Family Code, for example, there is a conclusive marital presumption under section 7540. A conclusive presumption is a legal term used to describe a fact that usually cannot be rebutted or contradicted by other evidence. Under the conclusive marital presumption, a husband is conclusively presumed to be the father of a child born to his wife, so long as the husband and wife were cohabiting at the time of conception and the husband is not impotent or sterile. In comparison, if you are an unmarried father in California, it’s important to understand that having a genetic link between father and child is not necessarily the deciding factor in a paternity action in this state. Under the language of section 7540, it is possible for a court in California to recognize a spouse’s husband as father of a child regardless of genetic link.

So how does the Paternity Opportunity Program help unmarried fathers establish legal fatherhood? A father who is not married to a child’s mother can establish paternity in the hospital after the birth of a child by filling out and signing a form known as the Voluntary Declaration of Paternity via the POP program. Generally, an unmarried father in California will not have his name appear on the birth certificate unless a Declaration of Paternity is signed in the hospital, or signed shortly thereafter, or when an unmarried father legally establishes his paternity in a California court and pays a fee to have the birth certificate amended.

The POP program was established in January 1995.The California Department of Child Support Services joined other states in a combined effort with licensed hospitals and clinics with birth facilities to establish the Paternity Opportunity Program (POP). The POP Program is a simplified procedure intended to permit unmarried parents to establish legal fatherhood by the mere signing of a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity form in the hospital rather than having to go through the time and expense of going to court. Once the form is signed, a child will have the ability to gain valuable rights from their legal father such as child support, access to family medical records, access to a non-custodial parent’s medical benefits, ability to have access to father’s Social Security or veterans’ benefits, inheritance rights and the ability to know and establish a bond with both parents.

The benefits to establishing paternity are important. Similarly, creating a legal link between a child and a father who is not legally married to the child at issue’s mother is a significant step towards securing father’s rights. As we stated above, in California, an unmarried father isn’t automatically listed on a child’s birth certificate, nor will he automatically have custody and visitation rights upon birth of the child. Once paternity is established, however, then a natural birth father would have the ability to ask court in California for custody and visitation rights to preserve his relationship with a child born out of wedlock.

Source: “ Paternity Means Fatherhood,” by California Department of Child Support Services, published at CA.GOV .

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