How to establish parentage

The relationship that unites a child to his or her parent is called parentage. Under French law, there are two main ways of establishing parentage : by voluntary recognition and by a judgement. Here are some further explanations. 

What is parentage and its international aspect ?

Parentage is the legal bond that unites a child to his mother and his father. The internal laws of countries regarding the establishment of parentage are influenced by international initiatives that have been undertaken to establish common principles. In France, as is the case with other civil countries, the legal term is “filiation”. The official way to establish parentage is to acknowledge paternity, by means of a civil declaration before or after the child is born. Buth other means are available, for unmarried couples or non biological relationships. Mother-child relationship is established even more simply by acknowledging the relationship in the child’s birth certificate. 

The principle of parentage

Married couple

The usual presumption of paternity is the marital presumption, which means that a child born within a marriage is presumed to be the biological child of the mother and the father. Therefore, father-child relationship is established automatically. 

Unmarried couple

When a couple is unmarried, parentage is established through recognition. In other words, 

the mother-child biological relationship is established as soon as the mother’s name appears in the birth certificate. The biological father is the one who recognizes his child through a voluntary process called acknowledgment of paternity affidavit. In France, the father must declare his child at the town hall. 

Born under X : anonymous birth

When a child is born under X (the French legal term for “anonymous birth”), his or her mother is anonymous, which means that he or she is deprived of maternal filiation. However, when the child reaches the age of legal majority, he will be able to ask for access to his personal origins, with the help of a filiation lawyer. In addition, within two months after the child has been taken by the Welfare Office, the biological mother and the biological father have the possibility to recognize their child and make a declaration of parentage. 

Legal actions related to filiation

When parentage has not been established at the birth of the child, or has been wrongly established, legal actions can be taken. 

Establishing parentage (paternity)

The purpose of a proceeding to establish parentage is to establish a legal relationship between a father and his child. The presumed father will have to prove by any means the existence of a bond between him and his child, with the help of a filiation lawyer. All legal proceedings must take place before the court of the defendant’s place of residence.

Challenging paternity

In France, it is possible to challenge paternity. The way to do it is to have a declaration of parentage annulled before a judge. The legal proceeding must preferably be filed by a lawyer, or international filiation lawyer if the case has international elements. Elements of proof must be given to prove that the declared father cannot be the biological one. Such a demonstration can be made by any means : letters, emails, various documents… Usually, the judge will order a biological expertise in order to get evidence. In the event that the legal action to challenge paternity is successful, the legal bond between the father and his child is retroactively annulled. Therefore, it will be deemed never to have existed. The child’s birth certificate will be modified as a result. 

Paternity suit

The purpose of a paternity suit is to establish parentage between a child and his father, when the latter has not recognized him. Paternity suit can be filed by a child who seeks to establish parentage with the one he thinks is his father, by his mother if he is a minor, or by his heirs if the child is deceased. Paternity suit must be filed before the court of the place of residence of the presumed father. The assistance of a lawyer specialized in parentage matters is recommended. 

Possession of status

Parentage can be established in a non-contentious manner, with a procedure called possession of status. This applies when paternity cannot be established legally, or when parentage has not been recognized by the father. To demonstrate possession of status, the parent and the child must prove that they have a genuine and subsisting relationship. For instance, the alleged parent can prove that he has provided for his child for many years, and has acted as if he were the biological parent. 

Possession of status is established through a notarial deed issued by a notary (notaire). It is then registered in the civil status register. The deed establishing parentage may be requested by the child or by the alleged parent.