When a child is born out to unmarried parents (also known as “out of wedlock”), the process to create the legal relationship between the father and child begins with establishing paternity. Children born to unmarried parents benefit from the process to establish parentage in many ways including:

  • knowing both parents so they can be involved in the child’s upbringing;
  • being able to receive financial support from both parents;
  • having future inheritance benefits;
  • being a beneficiary on a life insurance policy;
  • being eligible for government benefits such as veteran’s dependent benefits and social security; and
  • qualifying for medical benefits.

Paternity can be established on a voluntary basis when the parties sign and file the Paternity Acknowledgment.

Outside of the voluntary paternity acknowledgment process, a court determines legal parentage. When the case is filed, the court can order the parties to submit to a blood test to determine the whether a man is the biological father of the child. After that, the court can decide issues related to child support and a parenting plan for time-sharing.

Seattle Paternity Attorney | Father’s Rights in Washington

The attorneys at Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson help both mothers and fathers establish paternity for their child. We also help our client establish a parenting plan and child support order. Call us to find out how to establish paternity and determine all of the rights and responsibilities that come with that legal determination.

Our Seattle family law attorneys represent clients in paternity actions throughout all of King County including Kent, Seattle, North Bend, Mercer Island, Bellevue, Issaquah, Vashon Island and Maury Island. We also represent clients in paternity cases in Snohomish County and Tacoma in Pierce County. Call (206) 712-2756 to discuss your case.

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Establishing Paternity in Washington State

Obviously, every child is born with a biological father, but whether or not that parentage is recognized by the state is a totally different matter. Establishing paternity over a child will grant a person a wide range of parental rights and obligations they wouldn’t hold if they hadn’t been granted paternity rights. How the state of Washington determines paternity depends on the circumstances of your situation.

The state of Washington immediately recognizes the mother’s maternity rights after the child is born. Her name is included on the child’s birth certificate and she will be afforded all the legal rights and responsibilities a parent in Washington has. Fathers don’t always have such a straightforward process depending on the circumstances.

If the identity of the biological father is clear, then all he has to do is fill out an Acknowledgement of Paternity form. The process of paternity is a little trickier if the biological mother is married to a man who is not the biological father. In these cases, the state of Washington recognizes the legal presumption that the man the mother is married to when she gives birth is considered to be the child’s father. The presumed father must also sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity form to establish his parental rights.

Paternity doesn’t have to be established at birth. The father, mother, child, or even the state has the right to file a Petition to Establish Parentage. If a petition is filed, a hearing will be scheduled to determine the child’s paternal father. If the father doesn’t appear in court, a default order will be issued. Immediate court ordered establishment of paternity will be granted if both parents agree on who the biological father is.

If the respondent challenges the order and states they’re not the father, then the court will likely request them to undergo genetic testing. The respondent will swab their cheek and send it to a lab where there’s a .01% chance of error when determining paternity.

Depending on the DNA test results, the court will either establish or deny lawful paternity. They may even revoke paternal rights if it’s discovered the man tested is not the father of the child.

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Washington’s Uniform Parentage Act

Under Washington’s Uniform Parentage Act of 2002, being married to the mother when a child is born gives rise to a presumption of paternity. RCW 26.26.116(1)(a). The presumption of parentage established under RCW 26.26.116(1)(a) can only be rebutted by a court order declaring non-parentage after receiving clear and convincing evidence. In the absence of an order declaring non-parentage, the presumed father is still the father of the child.

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Presumption of Parenthood

In most cases, a court order is required to overcome the presumption of parenthood even though a party generally has standing to pursue an action when he is within the zone of interests protected by a statute and has suffered an injury in fact. IRCW 26.10.030(2) requires that notice of a child custody proceeding shall be given to the child’s parent, guardian and custodian, who may appear and be heard and may file a responsive pleading.

This statute puts the parents within the zone of interests for first party standing. Under the Uniform Parentage Act, a presumed parent is entitled to seek custody of their minor child on equal footing with the biological mother.

Washington courts have upheld the statutory presumption of paternity under RCW 26.26.116(1)(a) despite clear evidence disproving the presumptive parent as the biological parent. In these cases, it is important to seek out a court order when necessary to overcome the presumption of parenthood.

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Can I Refuse a Court Ordered Paternity Test?

The state of Washington cannot force a paternity test on you if you refuse one. Potential fathers can refuse DNA testing even if the mother, child, and other possible fathers have already been tested. However, note that your refusal isn’t without penalty. If the biological mother files a lawsuit to establish paternity, then you may be court ordered to submit DNA.

Refusing a court ordered paternity test can constitute as contempt of court. In Washington, contempt of court can actually lead to jail time and serious fines. To add on, if you fail to respond to the lawsuit the judge may grant a default judgement to the mother. When a lawsuit is given a default judgement it means the plaintiff (the biological mother) will be automatically given the remedy they originally sought which can include child support.

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Washington’s New Laws on Paternity

In 2011, the Washington Legislature changed the laws for establishing paternity. Under the new law, the name of the paternity establishment form has been changed from a Paternity Affidavit to Paternity Acknowledgment.

Either the father or the mother can change their mind within a limited period of time. The legal term for changing your mind is called a rescission. Under Washington’s new paternity law, the right to rescind the Paternity Acknowledgement is extended. To rescind the signature on the Paternity Acknowledgement, the person who signed the form must initiate a court action 60 days after the Paternity Acknowledgement is filed with Department of Health (DOH), Center for Health Statistics (CHS).

A Paternity Acknowledgment signed by a minor is legal. Under Washington law, minors who are under the age of 18 year old who sign the form have the same rights and degree of responsibility as an adult. If the person signing the Paternity Acknowledgement was a minor child when the Paternity Acknowledgment was signed, however, that person has the ability to rescind the acknowledgment on or before that person’s 19th birthday.

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Washington Paternity Law Challenge Period

The new paternity laws in Washington State also extended the challenge period from two (2) years to four (4) years. After the rescission period ends, the parent can still challenge the acknowledgment in court, but the grounds for recision are more limited. Those reasons can include factual mistake, duress, or fraud. The parent initiates the action in the Superior Court within four years from the date the acknowledgment is filed with DOH/CHS.

If either the presumed father or the mother wants to file an action to challenge the Paternity Acknowledgment in court, you only have four (4) years from the date it was filed with the DOH to begin that process.

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Seattle Family Law Issues

The family law attorneys at Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson represent clients in a wide variety of family law cases in Washington.  The different types of cases can include:

Divorce: Our experienced Seattle divorce lawyers know the family courts in Seattle and Kent in King County, Washington. We provide guidance with all types of divorce cases including contested divorce, uncontested divorce, military divorce, and same sex/LGBT divorce.

Modifying a Parenting Plan: For a variety of reasons, a parent might want to change a visitation schedule or parenting plan after it is originally decided. When this occurs, the party will file a petition to modify the current parenting plan.

Modifying Child Support: Under RCW 26.09.170(7)(a), child support may, and due to the changing circumstances of the parent’s employment and incomes over time, should be adjusted ever two years.

Annulment or Invalidity of a Marriage: In the state of Washington, the term “annulment” means when a marriage is canceled by means of a legal procedure.

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Benefits of Establishing Paternity in Seattle

The paternity of a child can have a great impact emotionally, financially and otherwise on a child. Establishing paternity provides important benefits to the child, including the right to claim social security, veteran benefits, life insurance, inheritances, and child support. From the perspective of the parent, establishing paternity allows the parent to obtain visitation and custody rights.

When it comes to emotional benefits, knowing one’s biological parents establishes a strong sense of self-identity, which is more than having the father listed on the child’s birth certificate. Children who have a sense of belonging to a family develop a healthy self-esteem. In additional to self-confidence, legally establishing paternity strengthens the bond between a child and their father.

It is also important to determine the paternity of your child for medical reasons. Once paternity is established a father may be able to add the child to his medical insurance policy.

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Additional Resources

Department of Social & Health Services (DSHS) – Visit the DSHS website to view information about establishing parentage. You will be able to learn about the Parentage and Paternity Program and look at other valuable resources the Division of Child Support offers.

Washington State Administrative Office of the Courts – Established in 1957 by state lawmakers, the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) provides support for Washington’s non-unified courts through a wide range of services to promote the efficient administration of justice. Visit the Washington Courts webpage to view court forms related to parentage. You will be able to download several forms including petition to decide parentage and confidential information related to paternity.

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Paternity Seattle Lawyer in Washington

When questions of fatherhood arise, our Washington family law attorneys help families establish paternity. Establishing paternity in Seattle is an important yet complicated area of law. Emotion can run high during a paternity case. However, our child custody lawyers in Seattle help families navigate through this difficult process seamlessly.

If you desire to establish paternity, Law Offices of Shana E. Thompson can help. The attorneys are experienced in representing clients in family law cases, particularly paternity cases, throughout King County and Snohomish County including Everett and Edmonds. Call us today at (206) 712-2756 to speak with one of our qualified Seattle child custody lawyers today.

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