Most fathers don’t realize that if they were not married to the mother of their child, THEY DO NOT HAVE legal rights as a parent. Paternity for the unmarried father can only be proven through DNA testing or established through the existence of a Paternity Affidavit.
Only after paternity has been established may the father seek custody rights in the form of a Parenting Plan or residential schedule just as if the couple were married.
How Do You Establish Paternity in Washington?
The good news is establishing paternity in Washington state is a relatively straightforward process. All you have to do is meet a few criteria or follow a few simple steps and your legal status is set.
At Time of Birth
If you and your spouse are married at the time of the baby’s birth, the law considers you the father. Unless there is evidence to the contrary this holds most of the time.
Acknowledgement of Parentage
If you’re not married when the baby is born, both parents can fill out an Acknowledgement of Parentage form. This also serves to establish paternity in Washington. This can be and usually is filled out at the hospital at the time of birth.
Finally, if there is any doubt, the situation may call for a paternity test. While a genetic test sounds daunting, it’s really as simple and painless as getting a cheek swab.
With the advent of DNA paternity testing, a court can now establish parentage in a relatively quick and easy procedure. The father can either submit to a paternity test, or court order can be obtained to compel the ostensible father to take the test.
Today’s DNA test results are accurate and nearly indisputable proof of parentage.
A married man is the legally presumed father when a child is conceived during the marriage even if he may not be the biological father of the child.
This presumption may be rebutted by DNA testing, however, most courts require that an attempt to disprove paternity be initiated within a reasonable period of time after the birth of the child.
What Happens After Paternity Is Established?
Once you establish paternity, it’s time to move forward.
If it turns out that you are not the father and you don’t wish to play that role in the child’s life then that’s the end of the story. The law doesn’t require any more of you, legally speaking.
You do need to fill out the appropriate paperwork, but after that, you’re done. If the mother petitioned for child support then the court should dismiss the case.
Still, some people choose to help raise a child that isn’t biologically theirs. It’s a personal choice and entirely up to the people involved.
If it turns out you are the father, that means something entirely different. You have, barring extreme circumstances, the right to remain a part of your child’s life.
Related Reading: What Are A Father’s Rights?
On the other side of that coin, you also have the obligation to help provide and care for your child. Depending on the nature and status of your relationship with the mother, this looks different from case to case.
- You may live together and raise the child as a couple.
- If not, you have the right to pursue custody or visitation.
- If you’re not the custodial parent, you’ll likely have to pay child support to help cover the regular expenses of raising a child.
How this plays out for you moving forward hinges on the situation and the parents. Depending on the specifics, it may be in your best interests to hire a child custody attorney. An experienced professional guides you through any legal hurdles you need to leap and makes sure you get what you need once you establish paternity.