In today’s society, it is not uncommon for two people to have a child outside of marriage. Many couples have built successful and long-lasting relationships on this model. Unfortunately, an increasing number of unmarried parents end up dissolving their relationships and then face very similar legal issues with their kids as a divorcing couple would.
I have helped many unmarried parents in paternity cases. Sometimes it is necessary to have a DNA test performed to establish a man’s paternity.
I assist unmarried parents in establishing a residential schedule that sets forth each parents residential time with the child.
I also handle the financial issues including pregnancy expenses, birth expenses, past due support and current child support.
Information and Answers to Questions About Paternity
Parents have a duty to support their children, and children born to unmarried parents are entitled to support from both of their biological parents.
The statute relating to paternity cases is the Uniform Parentage Act (RCW 26.26). The statute contains many provisions relevant to parentage actions.
When is a paternity case necessary?
A paternity case is generally initiated to determine who is the biological father of a child. A paternity case can be brought by either parent. In some cases, it will be commenced by the State of Washington at the request of the mother, or by the State on its own initiative. The mother, father and child are all parties to the action.
Why should I establish Parentage?
There are many reasons why you may want to establish parentage. You may want to ensure a legal relationship between the child and yourself. If you want to have a custody order (parenting plan or residential schedule) that defines who the child lives with and how much time you see the child, you will need to establish parentage. If you wish to receive child support for the child you need to establish parentage.
How do I establish Parentage?
There are three ways to establish parentage:
The most common way is by signing a paternity affidavit or paternity acknowledgement . These are usually presented to the mother and father at the time of the child’s birth and can be signed before the baby leaves the hospital. They can also be signed at a later date. Once this form is signed and filed with the State of Washington, it gives the child’s father all the legal rights and responsibilities that a parent has including the right to request visitation and the responsibility to pay child support.
Signing and filing the paternity affidavit/acknowledgment does not establish custody, visitation or child support. To receive child support, a parent must either make a request through the Division of Child Support’s administrative process or by filing an request asking the court to enter a support order and/or parenting plan/residential schedule.
The second way to establish parentage is by filing a case in court asking a judge to decide who the child’s parent is. You can do this by filing a Petition to Decide Parentage or you may ask the State of Washington to file a case on your behalf. The court may order genetic testing be done in order to determine who the biological parent is.
Last, effective July 27, 2011, the State of Washington presumes you are the child’s parent if, for the first two years of the child’s life, you lived in the same home as the child and openly held the child out as your own.
See RCW 26.26.116(2)
Who can request a DNA test?
Either party may request a genetic (DNA) test. The court will order a DNA test upon motion by one of the parties. A DNA test can be completed and results obtained within several weeks. The DNA test will reveal whether the father is the biological parent. If the father is determined to be the biological father, either parent can then address the parenting plan/residential schedule and child support.
What if I know I am the father of my child?
Oftentimes the parties will sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity at the birth of the child. The Acknowledgement of Paternity is filed with the State of Washington. In that case, either party can file an action for a Residential Schedule or Parenting Plan and Child Support Order without the need for filing a full parentage action.
What if my name is already on the birth certificate. Is that enough?
No. If you did not sign a paternity affidavit or acknowledgment and there is no court order, the birth certificate alone does not establish your legal rights as a parent.
Can I get a court order that formalizes the arrangement I have already if parentage has been established?
It is possible. You can file a Motion for a Parenting Plan/Residential Schedule instead of a petition as long as the following are both true:
- At the time you file the motion, less than 24 months have passed since the entry of the Order Establishing parentage.
- Your proposed parenting plan does not change who has custody.
If it has been longer than two years since the order was entered with the court, than either party will have to file a Petition for Parenting Plan/Residential Schedule.
For more information on the process see:
What is the difference between a Residential Schedule and a Parenting Plan?
A residential schedule only deals with where the child lives and how much time each parent will spend with the child.
A parenting plan includes a residential schedule but also makes decisions about the child’s school, medical care, each parent’s decision-making rights with regards to educational and religious choices and how future disagreements regarding parenting will be resolved.
Do I need a parenting plan or residential schedule?
Once a parenting plan or residential schedule is signed by a judge, it becomes a court order and both parents must follow it. By having a parenting plan or residential schedule, both parents are legally provided an opportunity to spend time with their child(ren) and any interference by the other parent can result in contempt.
Do I need an attorney to establish parentage?
Having an attorney as your advocate and advisor will ensure your legal rights are protected.
An experienced attorney can help you navigate the family law/parentage process and provide strategies and advice throughout the proceedings. Many areas of the law such as formulating a parenting plan or calculating child support are complicated and require sound legal advice. An experienced attorney can help draft paperwork and forcefully argue your case if you have to appear in court.