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Bay Area Family Attorneys > Blog > Family Law > Differentiating ‘Paternal Rights’ from ‘Parental Rights’ in California

Differentiating ‘Paternal Rights’ from ‘Parental Rights’ in California


There is perhaps no profession in which the meaning of words matters more than in the world of law. The outcome of life-altering legal cases can turn – as one former U.S. President famously stated – on “what the definition of the word ‘is,’ is.”

As you can see, the word “Paternal” and the word “Parental” appear to be very similar. Indeed, they both are related, as they both have to do with parents and their rights. However, in true legal fashion, they are NOT the same word, they DO NOT mean the same thing, and you should be familiar with these terms and their differences. Both legal concepts and the rights imbued under them are heavily protected under California law. You need to understand what they are, and what that means for you.

Paternal Rights vs Parental Rights

When referring to paternal rights, the law is referring to the establishment of a father’s rights to a child. Parental rights refers to the set of legal rights that legal parents have over their children.

For a father to be granted paternal rights, the individual must establish his paternity of the child.

Establishing Paternity

Paternity is often presumed under the law. The law recognizes a presumption of paternity for the husband in a relationship if the child’s mother was married when the child was born. This concept dates back to an old world, common-law principle in which the courts were acting to protect mothers and children and ensure them the recognition of a legitimate birth.

Today, in California, paternity is presumed if the mother was married to an individual when the baby was born, and if a child is born within the immediate 300 days after a marriage is terminated. This termination does not necessarily mean divorce, but can also refer to death, annulment, or legal separation.

A father might also establish paternity, even if he is not the biological father, by claiming the child as his own and caring for the child as such. Paternity can also be established via the parents signing a “Voluntary Declaration of Parentage.”

Disputed Paternity

If called into dispute, a court can act to determine paternity via genetic testing. If the genetic testing does prove that the father at issue is the biological parent then a court order is entered which establishes the paternity.

If a man has not established his paternal rights – either through one of the presumptive methods above, or via pursuing the establishment of those rights through the court – then the man will not have any parental rights over the child. Of note, the man will also have no obligation whatsoever to pay child support unless and until that paternity is established.

Brief Discussion of Parental Rights

Parental rights encompass more than simple paternity, and enable a parent to handle the duties and responsibilities of raising a child. Parental rights give the parent the ability to control aspects of your child’s life and make all manner of decisions for them, from deciding what school they attend, to what religion they observe, and what medical care they receive.

Establish and Protect Your Rights: Contact Cardwell, Steigerwald Young

Establishing and exercising your rights as a parent is one of the most important tasks in life. For expert advice on how to best move forward in your own specific case, contact San Francisco family lawyers at Cardwell, Steigerwald Young.




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