When a child is born during a marriage or a man demonstrates a commitment to a child he lives with, California law assumes the identity of the father. However, there are times when paternity isn't clear; in such cases, paternity must be established before custody, visitation or child support will be ordered.

The easiest way to establish paternity is voluntarily. If a child's father signs a "Voluntary Declaration of Paternity," he acknowledges he is the father of the child, and the VDP (Voluntary Declaration of Paternity) functions as a judgment of paternity. This gives the father all rights and responsibilities.

When a voluntary determination of paternity isn't an option, a court action is required. This will involve a DNA test using a blood or saliva sample. Not only may the mother seek a determination of paternity to ensure support for her child, so can a father. A local child support agency providing services to a mother may also seek a paternity test to help provide another source of financial support for the child.

Once a person is established as the legal parent of a child, that person must financially support the child. In the event of divorce, a court can also require child support in addition to child care costs from the legal parent. It can also impose shared custody or visitation rights.

Until paternity is established, a court cannot make orders regarding issues of child support or custody. Fortunately, the court can require genetic testing, so it can issue other orders as part of a legal proceeding.

A biological relationship isn't necessary to establish paternal rights, however, provided the father welcomed the child into his home and openly acted as if the child were his.

When issues of paternity are involved, keep in mind the impact on a child with two legal parents instead of one. Not only will a child receive financial support from two people, there are clear emotional benefits too. In this way, paternity testing can be a crucial tool in protecting the best interests of children.