Under the California Family Code, the only results that count when it comes to a paternity test are of the “court-ordered” variety.

Myriad daytime television talk shows have made great drama out of paternity tests. I caught one the other day (on happenstance, while sick in bed) and it got me thinking about the misconceptions surrounding paternity tests, the court, and child custody or support orders.

We generally assume that if a paternity test is done, as they agree to do on these TV programs, and the test results come back within a 99.99% certainty, then it is a relative certainty that custody and child support will follow. It can be a bit more complicated than that, especially if the paternity is contested.

a non-court ordered paternity test has zero evidentiary value

What most people don’t understand about California law is that, in a contested proceeding, a “non-court” ordered paternity test has zero evidentiary value. You can’t just take it to court and get an order for custody or support unless the other person involved agrees.

I had a client come in, seeking to obtain visitation and custody of his son, but the mother disputed that he was the child’s father. He had a paternity test done, at some expense and with much hassle. The paternity test said he was the father to near certainty yet the mother still refused to acknowledge this. The father came to me and asked what he should do, and was shocked when he learned that the first step would be … to get another paternity test.

Under Family Code §7541(a), 7551 and 7552, genetic testing when done in a contested proceeding must be done by court order and by court appointed experts. In this case, while the conclusion of the testing was going to be far less dramatic than on the afternoon talk shows, the delay and expense involved in seeking a formal court order for testing, and then to have the tests completed, was frustrating.

Nevertheless, because the mother refused to acknowledge any relationship with him, the only option he had if he wanted a relationship with his son was to spend the time and money to obtain a court-ordered paternity test.

It was conducted by the same lab as the non-court ordered test. Once that was done, and showed him to be the father, the court was able to move on the establishment of a reasonable parenting plan and support order. Fortunately for him, she wasn’t married at the time, or it would have been even more complicated, but that is for another post.

I wonder if, when enticed to participate in the spectacle of one of these afternoon parentage talk shows, the parents and potential parents are informed of the legal ramifications of the tests they submit themselves to and the shortcomings of those tests as actual evidence should they end up in family court after the fact. I imagine not, and I imagine many of them feel the same shock as my client when he came to my office.  The test results are the same, but under the California Family Code, the only results that count when it comes to paternity are of the “court-ordered” variety.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Matt Purcell is a Certified Family Law Specialist and shareholder with FORESTER PURCELL STOWELL PC, based in Folsom, California. He can be reached at info@foresterpurcell.com or 916 293 4000. This information is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice.

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