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How parental rights are established in California

On Behalf of | Feb 13, 2024 | California Laws and Regulations, Parental Rights, Second Parent/Step-Parent Adoption, Surrogacy Law |

Understanding how parental rights are established in California can be a point of concern for parents going through fertility treatments or surrogacy.

While the most common way of establishing parental rights in California is by giving birth to a child or by being married to someone who gives birth to a child, things can get tricky in other circumstances.

No marriage

If the parents are not married, the other parent can establish paternity by signing a voluntary declaration of paternity when and where the child is born or by going to court after the child is born.

This process grants the individual parental rights, including custody and visitation, and the legal responsibilities that come with being a parent, such as child support.


When an individual adopts a child, they become the child’s parent under the law, just as if they were the child’s biological parent. To ensure the best interests of the child, the courts complete the process of legal adoption.

Assisted reproduction

In the past, this was a more complicated area when it came to establishing paternity. However, with the development of various assisted reproduction techniques, the legal system has caught up to ensure there are laws and regulations in place to protect the rights of parents and children alike.

For example, in a surrogacy agreement, the intended parents must have a legal contract in place before the surrogacy process begins.

The courts must be involved, just like in an adoption, to ensure that everyone complies with California laws and to protect the best interests of the child.


As part of the legal process in a surrogacy agreement, the intended parents must get a pre-birth order, which states that the intended parents are the child’s legal parents. This order declares paternity before the child is born.

Beyond biological ties

California also acknowledges parenthood, where someone takes on the role of a parent or acts as a parent in every way.

For example, with stepparents, foster parents, or others who have established a strong connection and bond with the child.

In these circumstances, the court may recognize them as a “de facto” parent, which confers on them certain legal rights and obligations.

The child’s best interests

It is critical to know that in each and every case, California courts prioritize the best interests of the child.

The laws and regulations associated with establishing and keeping paternity are entirely to ensure the well-being of the child in question, from the moment they are born until they reach adulthood.

The courts will always choose the situation that provides the most stability, health and protection for the child.

Understanding parental rights is complex, and California is especially progressive in its laws and regulations surrounding paternity. However, the topic is complicated and when individuals have questions about paternity, they should seek counsel to ensure their actions are consistent with what the law requires.