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Two Ways to Establish Paternity When Parents are Unmarried

When parents are unmarried at the time a child is born (or within 300 days of a dissolution), the marital presumption does not apply. In this circumstance, more has to be done to establish the child’s paternity. It is necessary to establish the child’s paternity for purposes of entering an order of child support and/or a parenting plan or residential schedule for the child.

In Washington, there are two separate ways for unmarried, non-adoptive parents to establish paternity. One option is court action, and the other is the filing of a paternity acknowledgement with the Department of Health.

If there is not agreement as to the paternity of the child, or if the other parent does not want paternity established, it will probably be necessary to file a court action. To start a court action, either parent may petition the court with a parentage action.

There are cases when the prosecutor’s office will be willing to file a parentage action on behalf of the child (the State has an interest in determining children’s father). It is important to be mindful that if the prosecutor’s office brings an action to determine the child’s paternity, they are not representing either parent. While their interests may align with one parent’s interests, the prosecutor’s main priority is to represent the State.

An option for families who agree about paternity is to sign a document called a paternity acknowledgment. This is a document in which both parents swear that the named father is the only possible father. If there is a presumed parent (if the child is born within 300 days of dissolution of marriage) that person will also have to sign a document swearing that he is not the child’s parent. The signing of this acknowledgement will have the same effect as a court adjudication of paternity.

If you have (or are pregnant with) a child, and you are not married to the child’s other parent, please contact us to discuss your options.