Establishing Paternity Rights and Obligations with a Seattle Paternity Attorney

You might be a mother who needs to have the father legally determined to be the father, you might be a father who wants to establish your parenting rights, or you might be a possible father who wants to determine whether or not you are the father of a child. In any of these situations, or others as well, you should talk to a Seattle paternity attorney for more information.

Washington Paternity Law

Most paternity matters are covered by the Uniform Parentage Act, which was rewritten for 2019 to better address issues around assisted reproduction and surrogacy agreements.

Man with children.

Benefits of Establishing Paternity in Washington

Having paternity established means that:

  • The father has a right (in most circumstances) to have a regular relationship with the child.
  • The mother has someone else she can look to for help with parenting the child.
  • The child can grow up knowing who both of his or her parents are and develop bonds with both.
  • The child can benefit from the financial support of both parents.
  • The child may benefit from having family history and medical history from both sides of the family.
  • The child may have relationships with extended family members.
  • The child may have an ability to inherit from both parents.

Different Parent Statuses in Washington

The first thing you need to do in a paternity situation is look at the status of the parties. It may well be that no action is needed, at least in terms of determining paternity. These statuses include:

  • Acknowledged Parent
  • Presumed Parent
  • Alleged Parent
  • Adjudicated Parent

A Seattle paternity attorney can help clarify your current status.

Do I Need to Go to Court to Determine Paternity in Washington?

If a person is a Presumed Father or an Acknowledged Father, then no further action should be needed to determine that they are a parent, unless there is a claim being made that someone else should be named as the child’s father. However, for a couple who is not living together, court action is still needed to establish a parenting plan and child support obligations. Do not assume that no court action is needed in your case until you have talked with one of our Seattle paternity attorneys.

Can Paternity be Established Before the Child is Born?

In Washington State, paternity is only established after a child is born. Some aspects of paternity law depend on where the child was born (does Washington have jurisdiction?) and when the child was born (was the child born within 300 days of the end of the marriage?). “Child” as used in our paternity laws refers to a child who has been born.

What if I Do Not Think I am the Actual Father?

If you are a Presumed Father but wish to have it determined that you are in fact NOT the father of the child, you should talk to a Seattle paternity attorney right away. Maybe you even signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity but have realized later that you were wrong. This is called Disestablishing Paternity. You need to make sure, other than in very limited circumstances, that you file the court action within 4 years of the birth of the child. After the four years has passed without any action on your part, you may be held to be the legal father of the child even if you are not the biological father.

Be aware that this is not just about determining the facts of parentage. The court may also consider whether changing legal parentage is in the child’s best interests.

What Parental Rights Do I Have as to a Child I Helped Raise?

If you have a history of parenting a child even though you are not the child’s biological parent, you may be able to have the court establish you as a De Facto Parent, another type of Adjudicated Parent. A De Facto Parent is a person who is not a biological parent but who has assumed a parenting role for the child such that they should be treated as a parent. RCW 26.26A.440 (4) set out the factors for the court to weigh when deciding whether to name a person as a De Facto Parent:

  • The individual resided with the child as a regular member of the child’s household for a significant period;
  • The individual engaged in consistent caretaking of the child;
  • The individual undertook full and permanent responsibilities of a parent of the child without expectation of financial compensation;
  • The individual held out the child as the individual’s child;
  • The individual established a bonded and dependent relationship with the child which is parental in nature;
  • Another parent of the child fostered or supported the bonded and dependent relationship required under (e) of this subsection; and
  • Continuing the relationship between the individual and the child is in the best interest of the child.

If you think you might qualify as a de facto parent, be sure to talk to a Seattle paternity attorney. De facto parentage is often very useful in gay or lesbian marriages to determine that a partner should named as a legal parent of the child even when they could not have been a biological parent. This can be very important if the couple breaks up and the partner wants to have continuing parenting rights to reflect the established relationship with the child.

It is worth noting that in appropriate circumstances the court can find more than two people to be legal parents of a child. For instance, a child could have one biological father, one biological mother, and a second de facto mother.

I should point out that just having helped raise the child does not in itself give you any rights. To have any rights, you need to have a court establish you as a De Facto Parent before you can be granted specific rights to parent that child going forward. You should also be aware that with rights may also come responsibilities, such as helping to support the child.

Man with children doing crafts.

What Is the Effect of an Adoption in Washington?

Generally an adoption disestablishes one or both parents as legal parents, and establishes a new set of adoptive parents as the legal parents in their stead. A full adoption is where a couple adopts a child that is without parents or whose parents are not able to continue to care for the child. A step parent adoption is a form of adoption where one parent remains as a parent, but that parent’s spouse adopts the child and steps into the place of the biological parent.

In an adoption, both the rights and responsibilities of legal parent shift to the new parents, and are removed from the former parents. However, sometimes there may be an open adoption contract that still give the former parents rights to maintain some relationship with the child.

Is My Child Legitimate?

While I have seen other states characterize children as legitimate or illegitimate, Washington does not concern itself with the “legitimacy” of a child. Washington law only seeks to determine who is a parent of a child, and therefore who should have the rights and responsibilities of a parent as to the child.

If you are seeking to establish or disestablish paternity of a child who, discuss your paternity issues with a Seattle paternity lawyer.

Meet with a Seattle Paternity Attorney To See if Court Action is Needed to Determine Paternity

If a person is a Presumed Father or an Acknowledged Father, then no further action should be needed to determine that they are a parent, unless there is a claim being made that someone else should be named as the child’s father. However, for a couple who is not living together, court action is still needed to establish custody and child support obligations. Do not assume that no court action is needed in your case until you have talked with one of our Seattle paternity attorneys.

Forms of Paternity:

Acknowledged Paternity

Paternity is often established voluntarily when both parents agree that they are the biological parents of a child. An Acknowledged Father is established where a certificate of acknowledgement of paternity has been filed with the state. This is typically done at the hospital at the time of the birth of the child, and is signed by both parents. The certificate states the parents agreement that they are the parents and that there is no other presumed parent. The acknowledgement legally establishes that the couple are the parents of the child and both parents will be listed on the child’s birth certificate.

Once this has been done, no other action is needed to complete the establishment of paternity. However, if the couple is unmarried and is separated, or later separates, they will need to work out a parenting schedule and child support, just like a divorcing couple will do in the process of their divorce.

If you have signed an acknowledgement of paternity but feel you did so by mistake, there is a very limited period of time to rescind that acknowledgement, so make sure you talk to a Seattle paternity attorney right away!

Presumed Paternity

Where an acknowledgement of paternity has not been done, a person may still be a Presumed Father (see RCW 26.26A.115). For instance, you are a Presumed Father if the child was born while you were married to the mother, or within 300 days after such marriage ended. You can also be the Presumed Father if you married after the birth of the child and:

  • Filed an assertion with the state that you are the father of the child, or
  • Are voluntarily named on the birth certificate, or
  • Lived with the child during the first 4 years of her or his life and openly treated the child as yours.

A presumed father will be treated as the actual legal parent until such time as they are disestablished as the legal parent, usually by establishing another person as the actual legal parent. In other words, a presumed father can ask for custody or visitation, and can be required to pay child support.

If you are a Presumed Father or a birth mother but believe another person may be the actual father of the child, make sure you talk to a Seattle paternity attorney as soon as possible, as time limits to contest paternity may apply.

Alleged and Adjudicated Paternity

In other situations it may be necessary to have paternity legally determined by the court, which your Seattle paternity attorney can help you with. An Alleged Father is someone  who is not an Acknowledged Father or a Presumed Father but is believed to possibly be the actual father. You might believe that you are the actual father and want to be named as the child’s actual father, or you might be a mother who wants parentage clarified.

If there is an Alleged Father then there needs to be a court determination as to who should be the Adjudicated Father (adjudicated just means that a court had made a ruling that the Alleged Father should be named as the actual father).

If the court determines a person to be the Adjudicated Father of a child, note that the court can also order up to 5 years of retroactive child support, or more in unusual circumstances. Make sure you discuss possible back child support with your Seattle paternity attorney.

Starting a Paternity Determination

If you want to ask the court the court to determine the parentage of a child, you start by filing a Petition To Decide Parentage (your Seattle paternity attorney will help you with this). In the petition, or in a response to the petition, you should name any other potential parents you are aware of so that all can be notified of the proceeding and the court can make a determination between all candidates. When appropriate, DNA tests may be required by the court.

Call Our Firm Today To Discuss Paternity Issues with a Top Seattle Paternity Attorney

If you are seeking to establish or disestablish paternity of a child who, discuss your paternity issues with a Seattle paternity attorney. To schedule an appointment, we can be reached through the form on our website, or you can call us at 206-784-3049.