If you read the title of this blog quickly, you might believe there is a typo. The words “paternal” and “parental” are very similar. However, the words have very different meanings and are not interchangeable. 

Parents involved in a San Diego child custody case need to understand the difference. One establishes a father’s rights, and the other describes the rights legal parents have regarding their children. Both legal concepts are fiercely protected by California’s Family Code.

Establishing Paternity in California for a Child 

For a father to have paternal rights, he must first establish paternity. 

Paternity is presumed in several situations. By law, paternity is presumed if the parents were married when the child was born. Paternity is also presumed if the child is born within 300 days of the marriage being terminated by divorce, death, declaration of invalidity, annulment, or judgment of separation of the court.

A father can also establish paternity if he always treats the child as his own and holds the child out to be his own. The paternity is established even if the child is not the father’s biological child. The parents can sign and file a Voluntary Declaration of Parentage to establish paternity as well.

What Happens if Paternity Is Disputed in California?

Sometimes the father or the mother might dispute paternity. In those cases, the court can determine paternity through genetic testing. If the genetic testing proves the man is the child’s biological parent, the court enters an order establishing paternity.

Paternity is an extremely important concept in family law. Without paternity, you do not have parental rights. Furthermore, you have no obligation to support a child without something establishing your paternity. 

Exercising Parental Rights Over a Child 

Both parents have parental rights over their child unless a court modifies or denies them. Parental rights give you the authority to exercise control over your child and make decisions for your child. 

However, parental rights also come with the responsibilities of parenthood. Parents are responsible for their children’s care, health, and well-being. 

Parental rights give parents the right to:

  • Choose what school a child attends and make other educational decisions for their child
  • Decide if their child will be raised with a specific religious belief
  • Determine where their child will live
  • Decide whether to allow their children to participate in specific extra-curricular activities 
  • Decide what medical care their child will receive

In some cases, parents exercise their parental rights jointly. They each have an equal say in decisions involving their children. However, if parents cannot agree and resolve disputes regarding parental rights, the court will decide for them.

When a parent is unfit or could cause harm to a child, the court can remove parental rights. A judge could order supervised visitation or not allow visitation at all. 

In extreme cases, the court can terminate parental rights. When the court terminates parental rights, the parent has no right to see the child or participate in decision-making. Likewise, terminating parental rights terminates the requirement to support the child financially.

How Can I Protect My Paternal Rights in a Child Custody Case?

California judges may terminate parental rights if a parent voluntarily gives up parental rights to allow the child to be adopted by another person. The court will also terminate parental rights to protect the best interests of the child. 

Grounds for terminating parental rights include:

  • Abandonment
  • Mental or physical disability
  • Cruelty or neglect
  • Felony conviction
  • Substance use disorder

Typically, the child’s other parent or Child Welfare Services files a petition with the court seeking to terminate parental rights. Other interested parties might have standing to file a petition. The court hears evidence to determine what is in the child’s best interest.

Without good cause and grounds for terminating parental rights, your rights should not be at risk in a child custody case. The court should uphold your parental rights if the judge deems it in the child’s best interest, even though your ex-partner is seeking sole custody.

Courts in California prefer custody and visitation arrangements that allow the child to remain close to each parent. Therefore, the court will grant visitation with your child and allow you to participate in decision-making for your child even if the court grants primary custody to your ex-partner. The court would only deny visitation if it were emotionally or physically harmful to your children to be with you.

The best what to protect your parental rights during a child custody case is to hire an experienced San Diego child custody lawyer. An attorney understands the law and fights to ensure you retain your parental rights.

Contact Our Child Custody Law Firm in San Diego, CA

Contact our experienced San Diego child custody lawyers at San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC today for legal assistance. Contact our San Diego office at (619) 866-3756 to schedule a free consultation.

San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC
2851 Camino del Rio S #430
San Diego, CA 92108