Parentage: What It Is and What It Means
If a child’s parents are not married at the time of its birth, establishing “parentage” indicates who the legal parents of the child are. (If the parents are married when the child is born, California family law considers the husband to be the father of the child.) Parents who are not married when a child is born can sign a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity before they leave the hospital, or after. This affects the child’s birth certificate (i.e. whether a father will be named) and establishes parentage for legal purposes. When people who are not married can’t agree about parentage, the court can order genetic testing.
For same sex couples, if parents are registered domestic partners when a child is born, the law assumes that the domestic partners are the child’s parents. However, this law is unsettled, same sex parents should get legal advice to make sure that the parentage is clear. Depending on a family’s circumstances, a second parent adoption may be best.
Once a person is established as a legal parent of a child, that person must support the child. It is a crime for a legal parent to fail to support his or her child. A legal parent also has the right to get custody and visitation rights related to the child, barring certain circumstances (for example, abuse.)
Usually a child’s parentage must be established before the court will grant child support or custody and visitation orders. For unmarried parents, a parentage action is often the first step to pursuing child support and visitation orders.
California promotes stability in relationships and confer almost all of the same rights and responsibilities as marriage to same-sex couples through the recognition of registered domestic partnerships. Couples must meet certain criteria, such as sharing a common residence, in order to register. Couples register their domestic partnership with the California Secretary of State.
Domestic partnerships are not the same as marriages; for example, there is no federal recognition of California registered domestic partnerships. (This affects legal issues such as calculation of federal taxes and immigration issues.)
The option to register a domestic partnership is also available to opposite sex couples where at least one of the partners is both eligible for Social Security benefits and is over 62 years of age.
Whether or not to register is a choice that eligible couples should consider, taking into account their needs, wants and financial circumstances. Registering as domestic partners will not be the right choice for every couple. Each partner should seek the advice of an attorney and an accountant, if needed, prior to making this decision.
Family Law Issues Involving Children
Children are often the most hotly contested issue in a divorce. Which parent will they live with? How often will the other parent be able to spend time with the child? Which parent will make decisions regarding schooling, summer plans, and health care? It is always best if parents can come to an agreement between themselves regarding these issues. If not, however, the court will step in and make decisions regarding child custody and visitation, as well as child support.
There are two important concepts regarding child custody: (1) legal custody and (2) physical custody. Legal custody refers to who makes decisions related to the health, education and welfare of the child. Physical custody refers to where the child lives, and the amount of time the child spends with each parent. California’s public policy is to ensure that children have continuous and frequent contact with both parents and to encourage parents to share custody except where contact between parent and child would not be in the best interest of the child (for example, in cases of child abuse or domestic violence.) If the parents are able to come to an agreement regarding legal and physical custody, they can determine the custody arrangement. The court will then enter this arrangement as a custody order. If the parents are unable to agree, the court will determine custody by considering a variety of factors, including the child’s age and stage of development, and the strength or quality of the parent-child relationship.
Texas encourages continuous and frequent contact between a child and both of its parents. The parents can either agree on a visitation schedule, or, if they are unable to agree, the court will set one. The court will use many factors in deciding the visitation schedule including the age of the child, his or her emotional and social needs, and the level of communication between the parents. Changing a court-ordered visitation schedule is possible, but normally requires some kind of change in circumstances.
Child support is financial assistance paid by a parent for a child’s care and maintenance. Both parents are responsible for the support of their child. In California, the amount of child support is determined by uniform guidelines that take into account the parents’ financial circumstances and the amount of time spent with each parent. Parents can decide to vary from the state guidelines, but a court presumes the amount is correct if it is set by the guideline formula. Child support can be modified if there is a change in circumstances, such as a change in income, or in custody or visitation. Generally, child support is paid until a child turns 18 years of age.