In the eyes of the law, unmarried parents have the same rights and responsibilities as married parents. Legal paternity can be established by the agreement of the biological parents when a child is born or any time following the birth. If there is a dispute concerning who is the father of a child, paternity can be established through DNA testing. Either parent can file motions with the court to seek mediation if there is a disagreement about custody of the child, the parenting schedule, child support, or other child-related issues.
Paternity means legally establishing that a person who was not married to the mother of a child at the time of that child’s birth is the legal father of that child. Once paternity is established, the father gains all rights related to custody, visitation, and obligations related to the support of the child. In addition, the child gains the right to inherit from the father and receive governmental benefits based on his earnings.
In Washington there are several ways to establish paternity. If a child is born during marriage, the husband of the child’s mother is presumed to be the father. If a child is born to unwed parents but the parents later marry (or an unmarried father agrees to paternity) both parents can sign a notarized “Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity” form and file it with the state. In these instances, the father’s name is added to the birth certificate. Washington also honors a voluntary acknowledgment made in another state. When there is no agreement on paternity, a petition to establish parentage must be filed with the courts. The responding party does not respond to the petition within the allotted time, the court may enter a default order.
Custodial issues between parents often spark many challenges. For unmarried couples, the issues involved can often seem even more complicated but it is important to know that mothers and fathers, whether you are the noncustodial or custodial parent, do have rights. The best way to learn about your rights is to speak with one of the experienced attorneys at McKean Smith.