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Unwed Fathers Rights in California

Posted By Edwin Castellanos || 13-Feb-2014

CA Appeals Court Considers Unwed Fathers Right to Bring Paternity Action

Court of Appeals Holds Unmarried Father Has Standing To Bring Paternity Action Even Though Biological Mother’s Husband Is A Presumed Father.

Determining the parental rights of unwed fathers in California can be confusing. If you are an unwed parent who wants to assume responsibility for a child born out-of-wedlock, you can quickly find yourself cut off from the ability to obtain visitations with a child, or even have your parental rights terminated in an adoption or guardianship proceeding unless you promptly attempt to assume parental responsibilities with respect to the child.

In V.S. v. M.L., 222 Cal.App.4 th 730 166 Cal.Rptr.3d 376 (December 27, 2013) , the California Court of Appeals examined the issue of whether an unwed father in California has legal standing to bring a paternity action under Family Code section 7630, when another man married the biological mother before birth of the child and received that child into his home.

Specifically, Family Code Section 7630, subdivision (c), states as follows:

“(c) … an action to determine the existence of the parent and child relationship may be brought by the child or personal representative of the child, the Department of Child Support Services, the parent or the personal representative or a parent of that parent if that parent has died or is a minor, a man alleged or alleging himself to be the father, or the personal representative or a parent of the alleged father if the alleged father has died or is a minor.”

FACTS: In V.S. v. M.L., 222 Cal.App.4 th 730 166 Cal.Rptr.3d 376 (December 27, 2013) , the unmarried father of the child at issue in the case petitioned a court in California to establish he was the biological father of the child. He and the child’s biological mother had a romantic relationship resulting in her pregnancy. About a month before the child’s birth, their relationship ended and the mother married a man referred to in the case as Roger.

Roger immediately brought the child into his home as the couple’s son and the biological mother prevented the unmarried father from having contact with the child. The biological mother moved to dismiss the parentage action on the grounds that he had no legal standing and the court granted the motion. Unwed father appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case.

HELD: The Court of Appeals held that under Family Code 7630(c), the parentage case could go forward and that there was legal standing to have the rights of the unmarried father heard by the court in spite of the fact that the biological mother’s husband was a presumed father under Family Code section 7611.

While the Appellate Court held that an unmarried father does have the right in California to bring a parentage action even though the biological mother’s current husband is a “presumed father” under California Family Code Section 7611, the fact is that legal “standing” does not automatically determine fatherhood, nor does it legitimize the merits of an unwed father’s overall claim.

The case clarifies a 2010 amendment to California’s Family Code Section 7630. Before the amendment, subsection (c) provided authorization to file a paternity action only “with respect to a child who has no presumed father under Section 7611 or whose presumed father is deceased.” (See stats. 2008, ch. 534.) In 2010, the statute was amended to remove the qualification and the statute no longer denies another man who alleges he is a child’s father legal standing to bring a paternity suit in court.

Therefore, the amendment to section 7630(c) provides legal standing for an unwed father to file a paternity action. However, even though an alleged father has legal standing to bring a paternity action as to a child born out of wedlock, the alleged father does not automatically have a case with legal merit. While the amendment to section 7630(c) does not determine the issue of fatherhood, it will enable an unwed father to have legal standing to assert his claim to determine fatherhood in a California court.

Cite: V.S. v. M.L., 222 Cal.App.4 th 730 166 Cal.Rptr.3d 376 (December 27, 2013) .

If you are an unwed father in California who needs to speak to a paternity lawyer to determine your legal rights, or if you would like to immediately file a paternity action, contact Castellanos & Associates, APLC today at (323) 655-2105. We would be happy to discuss your case in a free initial consultation. Call us today!

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