When a child is born to a married couple in California, paternity is automatically established. However, a child of an unmarried couple may be at a significant disadvantage if the name of his or her father is not registered. California family law allows unmarried parents to sign a Declaration of Paternity to establish legal fatherhood voluntarily upon the child's birth in the hospital. It may also be done after they have left the hospital.
When California parents divorce, the court may award child custody to one parent and order the other parent to pay child support. Family law provides guidelines, according to which the amount of child support is calculated. If the noncustodial parent does not pay child support, or if the child is in foster care, the government may support the family and then hold that parent responsible for repayment of the support provided by the state.