In Washington, unmarried fathers are not automatically considered to be the child's legal parents until he can establish paternity.
To establish paternity, you and the child's mother will have to agree that you are the parent, or you will have to get paternity test.
In Washington, the law surrounding unmarried father's rights is found in the Uniform Parentage Act, RCW 26.26A.
Do I have legal rights if I am not listed on my child's birth certificate?
This is true even if you are the child's biological father, which may surprise a lot of people.
Legally speaking, therefore, you do not have a right to residential time, visitation, or any responsibility to pay financial support.
Of course, you can establish paternity through a court order or through an acknowledgment of parentage (see below).
Can the mother refuse to put me on the child's birth certificate?
Yes, if you and the mother are unmarried.
Can the mother remove me from the child's birth certificate?
No, unless she gets a court order. Alternatively, you would have to make a change to the Acknowledgement of Parentage form (see below).
How do I establish paternity?
Most married fathers never have to worry about this, because they're listed on the birth certificate.
Furthermore, under Washington law, a married father is legally presumed to be the child's father even if he is not listed on the birth certificate.
But what if you and the child's mother are not married?
As an unmarried father, you have two (2) options.
- Acknowledgement of Parentage
Both parents fill out and signs a document that confirms that you are the child's father. You'll need basic information, like each parent's full name, address, email, phone number, and DOB.
By signing an Acknowledgment of Parentage (AOP), you agree to the following statements, among others:
- No one has threatened you to sign
- You have had the opportunity to talk to an attorney before signing this form
- This form does not require a court proceeding
- You affirm that no other person can claim legal parentage rights over the child
- You agree that the AOP does not confer visitation rights or residential time with the child, which would require court proceedings.
- You have the right to revoke your acknowledgment at any time.
Once you complete and sign this form, you must get it notarized or a third-party witness must sign the form. Then you must mail a copy to the Washington State Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics, P.O. Box 9709, Olympia, WA 98507, along with an $18 check or money order.
You can also request a certified birth certificate with both parents listed, which will cost an additional $25.
- Paternity Test
As you can probably imagine, getting the mother to sign an AOP is ideal. But what if she refuses to sign? Or what if she refuses to acknowledge that you are the father?
In that case, you will need to get a DNA test. DNA tests are nearly 100 percent accurate and will establish beyond any reasonable doubt that you are the father.
Does signing the Acknowledgement of Parentage have legal effect?
Under the Uniform Parentage Act, a fully signed AOP that is filed with the Department of Health is the legal equivalent to a court order.
Does signing the AOP get me listed on the birth certificate?
Yes. You will have to submit a separate request to get a certified copy of the birth certificate.
Do I need to sign an Acknowledgment of Parentage if I am already listed on the birth certificate?
No. If you are married to the child's mother, you are presumed to be the father, which explains why you are already on the birth certificate.
In some cases, you may need to file an AOP to prove parentage outside of Washington State.
Can I file the Acknowledgment of Parentage if the child's mother refuses to sign?
To be a lawful AOP, both parents - you and the birth mother -- must sign the form.
Is an AOP valid if another man claims to be the child's father?
An AOP is only valid if both parents agree and no other person claims to be the child's parent.
Can I revoke my signature on the Acknowledgement of Parentage?
To do so, you must file a Rescission of Parentage (ROP) form with the Department of Health. An ROP effectively reverses an AOP and gets your name taken off the child's birth certificate.
You must file an ROP form no later than 60 days after you signed an AOP or before your first court hearing to determine parentage.
How long do I have to establish paternity in Washington?
There is no time limit, although we recommend that you establish paternity as soon as possible if the child's mother is denying you residential time. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to convince the court that you should have an active role in your child's life, especially if you have the financial means to get a paternity test.
Can I request a paternity test if I am listed on the birth certificate?
You can always get a paternity test to confirm that you are in fact the biological father. You can also file a motion with the court.
Can I ask the Court to make the child's mother pay for getting a paternity test?
You can seek reimbursement from the child's mother following a court hearing.
What happens if the child's mother challenges the paternity test results?
This does happen sometimes, even though DNA is almost foolproof today.
Under the Uniform Parentage Act, the court will order additional genetic testing if the mother challenges the results of the initial testing, but only if the mother pays for the additional testing in advance.
Do I have to get a paternity test to be considered the child's father?
Under the Uniform Parentage Act, you are presumed to be the father if one of the following applies:
- You and the woman who gave birth to the child are married or in a registered domestic partnership at the time of the child's birth.
- You and the woman who gave birth to the child were married or were in a registered domestic partnership and the child is born not later than 300 days after the marriage / partnership terminates.
- You and the woman who gave birth to the child married or entered into a registered domestic partnership after the child's birth.
Example #1: You son was born on January 1, 2023. At the time, you and the child's mother were not married. On February 1, 2023, you and the child's mother get married. Under Washington law, you are presumed to be the child's father.
Example #2: Your daughter was born on July 1, 2023. At the time, you and the child's mother were married. You and your wife divorce in September 2023. You are presumed to be the child's father because you divorced less than 300 days after the baby was born.
How do I file a motion to establish parentage in court?
You have to file a summons and a petition to decide parentage in the appropriate court and serve papers on the woman who gave birth to the child and any other presumed parent.
How do I fill out the parentage petition?
To complete the petition to decide parentage, you need to the following information:
- The child's full name, date of birth, and place of residence
- Your relationship to the child's mother
- Whether you are listed on the child's birth certificate
You also must tell the court whether you are seeking genetic testing, whether you are requesting residential time with the child, and whether you are asking to pay financial support.
Which county in Washington do I file my parentage motion?
You must file your petition to adjudicate parentage in the country in which the child resides or the county in which the other parent resides, if the child does not reside in Washington.