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California Appeals Court Holds a Voluntary Declaration of Paternity Not a Guarantee of Presumed Father Status — In re Jovanni B.

alphablocksCalifornia courts hear many cases where paternity is an issue. Establishing paternity can be an important factor in protecting the rights of a child, and it can be important for other parties involved. For example, before a court will order child support, custody, or visitation, the parties must establish paternity. If you have questions about your parental right, it is important to talk to a skilled and extremely experienced Northern California lawyer.

Establishing paternity can give rise to a variety of complications and intricate issues. The California Court of Appeals recently handed down a decision, In re Jovanni B., holding that that a voluntary declaration of paternity does not guarantee presumed father status. The case arose from a Department of Children and Family Services (“DCFS”) action where DCFS had asserted authority over a child to protect the child’s best interests. DCFS brought the case to the lower court to, among other things, establish paternity of the child.

Two men claimed to be the father. One man, named John, met the mother while she was pregnant. He participated in the childbirth, and two days after child birth signed a declaration of paternity. The mother and child lived with John after the child’s birth. However, the child’s biological father was a man named Brian, who had only visited the child a few times and under supervision of the mother.

DNA tests confirmed that John was not the biological father, which caused the juvenile court to set aside the declaration of paternity and remove John from the hearing. John appealed the decision arguing that (1) he should be found the presumed father since he signed a voluntary declaration of paternity and (2) he should not have been removed from the paternity hearing solely because he was not the biological father.

California Fam. Code, § 7575 allows for a father to sign a voluntary declaration of paternity, which establishes paternity and shall, by law, have the same force and effect as a judgment of paternity. However, if genetic tests determine that the father is not the genetic father, the court may set aside the declaration.

The appellate court affirmed that the declaration may give rise to an “evidentiary” presumption that the declarant is the child’s biological father, yet it does not entitle the declarant to presumed father status. The court distinguished between the “presumed father” status and a voluntary declaration of paternity. A declaration of paternity settles questions of biology and provides a foundation for an order of financial support. The presumed father status, by contrast, grants greater rights in dependency hearings and is determined by someone coming forward and demonstrating a “full commitment to parental responsibilities.” Courts favor the presumed father status in a dependency hearing.

The appellate court held that John should not have been excluded from the hearing solely because he was not the biological father. A ruling in favor of such an exclusion would go against the rule that lack of biology will not defeat presumed father status. The exclusion would, in some cases, mandate that the biological father be declared the presumed father in effect forcing children with biological fathers who have had no contact with the child or that may be against the child’s best interest.

However, the court did not grant John’s request that the voluntary declaration of paternity should automatically grant him presumed father status. This would have the opposite repercussion of mandating against other potential fathers simply because they did not sign a voluntary declaration of paternity.

The court held that (1) a voluntary declaration, by itself, does not create a presumed father status, and a court may set aside a voluntary declaration of paternity when a declarant is not the biological father, but (2) a court can not exclude a party from a dependency hearing solely because they are not the biological father.

The appellate decision of In re Jovanni B. emphasizes the importance of establishing paternity and presumed father status. If you are interested in protecting your rights as a parent, it is recommended that you speak with an experienced family law attorney. Establishing the paternity of your child can help with child support, custody, or visitation.

San Jose Family Lawyer, John S. Yohanan, has extensive experience handling custody and paternity proceedings. If you want a family lawyer with more than 30 years of experience on your side, call our office at (408) 297-0700.

Additional Resources:
Families & Children: Parentage/Paternity, 2014, California Courts: The Judicial Branch Website

In re Jovanni B., Dec. 11, 2013, Court of Appeals of California, Second District, Division Four.