California Paternity Suits

A description of how a paternity suit proceeds in California.

The following information is intended to provide the reader with a general idea of how the average paternity case proceeds. Each paternity case will vary because the specific issues which much be addressed will vary in each lawsuit.

To begin a paternity action in California, one party must file a Petition in his/her local courthouse. The person who files the Petition is called the "Petitioner." The Petition is then served upon the other party. This party is called the "Respondent."

Upon receipt of the paternity lawsuit, the Respondent has 30 days to file a Response with the court. The Response tells the court that the Respondent intends to participate in the paternity case. If the Respondent fails to file a Response, the court will allow the Petitioner to have a judgment for paternity entered without the Respondent's participation. This is called proceeding by "default." The Resondent will be found to be the parent of the child and likely ordered to pay child support.

If the Respondent files a Response to the Petition, the Respondent must either admit or deny that he or she is the child's parent. Sometimes the parents can voluntarily resolve all their issues through settlement. If a settlement is reached, the parties prepare a settlement agreement, which later becomes the Judgment and the case is concluded- without having to attend court.

If the Respondent admits to being the parent, but the parties cannot resolve the issues on their own, the court will make orders for custody and visitation. If the parties cannot agree on custody, the court will have a hearing. Once custody and visitation are resolved, the parties exchange information about their incomes. The court then makes orders for child support. Those orders become the judgment and the case is concluded.

If the Respondent denies that he or she is the parent of the child, the court will order genetic testing (a dna test). If the paternity test proves that Respondent is the parent, the court makes order for child support, child custody, and child visitation, in the manner set forth above, a judgment for paternity is entered, and the case is concluded.

Even after the case is concluded, either parent can return to court to request the orders be changed. The court will determine whether there is a reason to modify the original paternity orders concerning child custody, child visitation, and child support. This is called a modification proceeding and usually requires a showing of a change of circumstances.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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