As early as possible, the juvenile dependency court must determine who are the legal parents of a dependent child/youth. To be entitled to reunification in a dependency case, that parent must be a legal parent.
If parents of a child are married, or in a registered domestic partnership when the child is born, the law assumes the married parents or domestic partners are the legal parents of that child. However, if a child is born to unmarried parents, parentage may need to be formally established by the court.
Determining parentage can be a complicated but important process. The rights and responsibilities of legal parents differ from the rights and responsibilities of biological or other parents. Biology alone does not determine legal parentage. A child can have more than two legal parents.
Paternity/Parentage in the case of unmarried parents can be established only by a voluntary declaration of paternity or by court order per Family Code Section 7573.
The Juvenile Dependency Court’s Inquiry
At the initial hearing (typically detention), the dependency court has a duty to inquire about parentage. If parentage cannot be established then, the court must continue the inquiry at all subsequent hearings until parentage is established. Specific questions the court must ask include, but are not limited to:
- Has there been a parentage judgment or court decision.
- Was the mother married?
- Did the mother believe she was married?
- Has the mother received support payments or promises of support for the child?
- Has a man formally or informally acknowledged paternity; including by signing a voluntary declaration of paternity or by having his name placed on the child’s birth certificate?
- Have there been genetic tests or blood tests?
- Has the child been raised jointly with another adult?
If/when at any proceeding regarding the child the issue of parentage is addressed by the court:
- The court must ask persons present whether any parentage finding has been made, and, if so, what court made it, or whether a voluntary declaration has been executed and filed under Family Code Section 7574.
- The court must direct the court clerk to prepare and transmit Parentage Inquiry—Juvenile form JV-500 to the local child support agency asking whether parentage has been established through any superior court order or judgment or through the execution and filing of a voluntary declaration of paternity.
- The office of child support enforcement must prepare and return the completed JV-500 within 25 judicial days, with certified copies of any such order or judgment or proof of the filing of any voluntary declaration attached; and
- The court must take judicial notice of the prior determination of paternity.
If there has been no prior determination of parentage:
- Any alleged parent seeking custody must complete and submit the JV-505 Statement Regarding Parentage form.
- To determine parentage, the court may order the child and any alleged parents to submit to genetic tests and proceed under Family Code 7550 seq.
- The court may make a determination of parentage or non-parentage based on the testimony, declaration, or statements of the alleged parents. Any alleged parents must be advised by the court that if parentage is determined, the parent will be responsible for financial support of the child and for reimbursement of any benefits paid on behalf of the child.
If the court establishes parentage of the child, the court must sign Parentage—Finding and Judgment (Juvenile) form JV-501 and direct the clerk to transmit the judgment to the local child support agency.
Voluntary Declaration of Paternity/Parentage
If a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage (VDOP), using form CS 909, has been executed (by both parents) and filed with the California Department of Support Services, that declaration establishes the parentage of a child and has the same force and effect as a judgment of parentage by the court. For more information about establishing parentage/paternity through a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage, please visit the California Courts website here.
Family Code 7613 (a) states that if a woman conceives through assisted reproduction with a donor not her spouse, with the consent of another intended parent, that intended parent is treated in law as if he or she were the natural parent of the child. Failure to consent in writing does not preclude the court from finding that the intended parent consented if the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that prior to the conception of the child, the woman and the intended parent had an oral agreement that both would be parents of the child.
Review Family Code section 7574 for more information regarding the Voluntary Declaration of Parentage (VDOP). Due to the fact that the VDOP (CS 909 form) must be witnessed and notarized, a blank copy cannot be obtained online. You can ask for the CS 909 form to be sent to you by mail by e-mailing [email protected], or you can get it at your county’s local child support agency, registrar of births, family law facilitator at your local superior court, or welfare offices.
Here is a sample copy of CS 909
Types of Parents
The following categories of parents are relevant to juvenile dependency court proceedings and are defined by statute and/or case law in the State of California. As discussed above, the type of parent an individual is designated may afford differing rights and responsibilities in a juvenile dependency proceeding.
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