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California law starts with the presumption that a child benefits from having a relationship with both parents. Cal. Fam. Code, Section 3040(a)(1)
. What the judge is interested in is what is in the best interests of the child. That encompasses a variety of factors, including the age and health of each parent, the living situation, the ability to parent, the relationship between each parent and the child, whether there is any history of drug or alcohol abuse, domestic violence
, or a violent criminal history on the part of either parent, and any other factor that the judge finds relevant. As long as you are established as the child's father, you have a right to spend time with the child and develop a relationship. Where possible, joint custody
is often preferred. If joint custody is not possible, or not something you are able to do, you are still able to get an order that will allow visitation with the child.
Until there is a court order in place, however, the default is that the person in possession of the child has no legal obligation to give the child to the other parent. So, the best way to assert your rights is to bring an action to determine parentage
and establish a custody arrangement. Here is more information on the process.
If you're not sure, it is very important not to agree to care for the child, sign the birth certificate, or otherwise ackowledge paternity. Those types of declarations can turn out to be binding on a person, even if he is later determined not to be the father. So, the best thing is usually to determine paternity as soon as possible. That way, you can develop a plan to care for the child going forward. You can also ask your local child support
agency to help you.
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