Every child that is born of course has a biological father, but whether or not that parentage is officially recognized by the law is another matter entirely. An establishment of legal parentage grants a wide range of important rights and obligations within our civil structure.
Lawfully recognized parents are required to share the various obligations of parenthood, like putting food on the table and providing for the child’s medical needs. They are also entitled to various rights, such as the ability to request custody and child support, access their child’s medical records, and make important decisions on behalf of their child. Children benefit, too, from the lawful establishment of parentage in that they will have access to their parents’ health insurance and the ability to inherit their estate.
For obvious reasons, the lawfully recognized parentage of mothers (maternity) is immediately recognized at birth. The mother’s name will automatically be included on the child’s birth certificate and the mother will be afforded all of the legal rights and responsibilities of parenthood. For fathers, establishing paternity of the child is not always quite this simple. It can be either voluntary or involuntary, but either way it takes a little more work.
In the most straightforward of situations, when the identity of the biological father is very clear, the father must simply fill out an Acknowledgement of Paternity form. This form must be signed by both the father and mother in front of a notary in order to be valid. Normally, this form will be signed at the hospital at the time of the child’s birth, but it may be filled out and submitted to the Washington State Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics at any time after the child’s birth. Once this form is submitted, the biological father’s name will be added to the child’s birth certificate and the aforementioned rights and responsibilities will be granted.
Things get a bit trickier if the biological mother is married to a man who is not the biological father, or if another man claims to be the father of the child. Washington State recognizes a legal presumption that the man whom the mother is married to when she gives birth is the biological father of the child. If the presumed father is not the biological father, he must also sign the Acknowledgment of Paternity form to recognize the lawful paternity of the biological father.
Paternity can also be established involuntarily by order of a Washington court. A mother, father, child, or the state has the right in some cases to file a Petition to Establish Parentage. If this occurs, it means there is some disagreement over the biological paternity of the child.
A hearing will be held, which may result in a default order if the father doesn’t appear in court, or an immediate court ordered establishment of paternity if both parents agree in court to the biological parentage of the child. If either parent disagrees, they may request that genetic testing be conducted. With a simple cheek swab modern labs can establish with 99.9% certainty the parentage of the child.
Once the results of the DNA test are determined, the court will issue an appropriate order to either establish or deny lawful paternity, or even revoke paternal rights if it is discovered that the man whose DNA was tested is not the father.
When disagreement exists over the paternity of a child, it is almost always a very sensitive and complex situation. We at the Law Office of Kenneth J. Levey understand how challenging paternity issues can be, and we are here to guide you throughout the process and advocate for the best interest of both you and your child. Please give us a call today!