Establishing Paternity in Washington State
Two people in a marriage or domestic partnership are automatically presumed to be the parents of any child born inside their relationship. When the birth mom is single, the only presumption is that she is the mother. The mother is automatically given full custody of the child.
Unlike married couples, there is no presumed father of a child born to an unmarried mother. Until paternity is established, a single mom cannot ask the court to order child support until proving paternity nor can a father petition for child custody.
There is no argument over paternity for many unmarried couples. The mother and father voluntarily establish parentage by completing a form called Voluntary Acknowledgment of Parentage. This document is typically completed at the hospital shortly after the baby is born. The form can be obtained later from any Division of Child Support office or local county health department.
The completed and notarized form is sent to the Washington State Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics. Once properly filed, both parents have rights and obligations for the child. The father’s name is included on the child’s birth certificate.
Washington State also has an involuntary process to establish paternity when the identity of the genetic father is questioned. The mother, presumed father, or alleged father can file a Petition to Establish Parentage in the county where the child lives. If the child receives public assistance, the state also has the right to file the petition.
If the alleged father does not appear in court as requested, the judge typically enters a default judgment that the person in question is the legal father. An immediate order establishing parentage also occurs if the mother and father come to court and agree that he is the biological father.
Court-ordered paternity is typically sought in these situations:
- The father wants custody or visitation rights
- The mother is seeking child support
- The mother is married to someone else who is presumed to be the father
Complications arise when the mother or suspected father denies or is uncertain about paternity. The court can order DNA testing that can establish with 99.9% certainty whether the person in question is the biological father. Genetic material is gathered by swabbing the cheeks of the mother, child, and alleged father.
Should the DNA test confirm the biological father, the court will issue an order establishing parentage. The father’s name is added to the child’s birth certificate.
Once paternity is verified, the court can also enter additional orders:
- Child Custody
- Child Support
Benefits of Establishing Legal Paternity
The advantages of legal parentage run much deeper than custody and support orders. Parents can create strong bonds with their children. This connection supports the emotional and mental health of the parents and the child.
Other advantages of legal paternity include the following:
- The child is eligible for public and private benefits through the mother and father
- The child enjoys inheritance rights through both parents
- The child better understands their genetic/medical history
- Provides the child with a fuller sense of identity
Parents enjoy a psychological boost from knowing they are providing for their child’s health and well-being.