Establishing paternity may not always seem like a priority for unmarried couples in California. Even if the parents are no longer in a relationship, if they are civil, why bring the law into things? The stakes are actually fairly high for not doing so. If you have a child for whom you have yet to establish paternity, you will not be able to exercise any child custody, visitation or legal rights.
Just because things are good between you and your child's mother now does not mean that they will always be so, and a serious argument could prompt your ex to withhold access to your child. Even if things stay good between you, what if your ex wants to move out of state with your child? Without paternity, you cannot intervene in this decision.
You can begin the process to establish paternity by filing a petition with the court. Your child's other parent will receive notice of the petition and given 30 days to give a response, which can go one of two ways. The mother can either admit that you are the child's father or deny that you are the parent. The former is the easiest situation, after which you can establish a legally-binding custody or visitation agreement that protects your rights. In the event that your ex denies your paternity, a judge will thoroughly examine the circumstances of your unique situation and possibly order genetic testing.
While being a good father does not mean that you have to have all of the legal paperwork in order, protecting your right to maintain that relationship does. Establishing a child custody agreement, visitation schedule and more all require proof of paternity, so you may want to consider starting the process as soon as possible. More information about paternity, custody and other California family law topics is available on our website.