Parents: Washington State Division of Child Support
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Division of Child Support

Information for Parents

Establish Parentage for Your Child's Sake

How may I legally establish parentage?

There are four ways to establish parentage.

(1) Marriage. If the mother and biological father decide to marry before the child is born, the marriage may create what is called a presumption of parentage. Unless a parent or some other interested party later challenges that presumption, the man will be considered the legal father of the child.

(2) Registered Domestic Partnership. If the mother was in a registered domestic partnership during the pregnancy, the registered domestic partnership may create what is called a presumption of parentage. Unless a parent or some other interested party later challenges that presumption, the registered domestic partner is the legal parent of the child.

(3) Paternity Acknowledgment. The Paternity Acknowledgment is a legal form. The man who signs the form will be considered the legal father after the form is signed, notarized, and filed at the Washington State Department of Health, Center for Health Statistics (DOH/CHS).

(4) Court Order. The court may determine if a person is the legal parent of a child. The court may require a genetic test of the mother, child, and a man alleged to be the biological father.

How do I establish paternity by signing a Paternity Acknowledgment?

What are the advantages to signing a Paternity Acknowledgment?

The Paternity Acknowledgment is a simple, quick, and inexpensive way to legally establish paternity. It should be used only when both the man and the mother are sure that the man is the only possible father of the child.

What if the mother was married to another man or in a registered domestic partnership?

If the mother was married to another man during the pregnancy or in a registered domestic partnership, the man who claims to be the father may sign a Paternity Acknowledgment. However, the mother's husband or registered domestic partner must also agree. The presumed parent (mother's husband or registered domestic partner) must sign a Presumed Parent's Denial of Paternity or the Paternity Acknowledgment will not be valid. Both the acknowledgment and the denial must be filed with DOH.

Where can I sign a Paternity Acknowledgment?

Most parents sign the acknowledgment form at a birthing hospital, a birthing clinic, or at home under the care of a midwife shortly after the child is born. A hospital, midwife, or birthing clinic staff person will help you complete the form if necessary, answer questions, and submit the paperwork to DOH. Most hospitals, midwives, and birthing clinics can also notarize the form for you. If you sign within five days of your child's birth, you will not need to pay a fee to file the acknowledgment form. If you do not sign at the hospital, you may obtain the Paternity Acknowledgment form at your local county health department or any Division of Child Support (DCS) office. You may also call DCS at 1-800-442-KIDS (5437). Ask the receptionist to send you an acknowledgment form. DCS will mail you the form and an informational booklet without charge. Both parents will need to sign and have their signatures notarized. You may send the form directly to DOH along with the filing fee. If you need help completing the form, any DCS office can assist you.

How may I obtain a copy of my Paternity Acknowledgment after it has been filed at the Washington State Department of Health (DOH)?

The Paternity Acknowledgment is filed at DOH and becomes the official record. If you file an action in court to challenge or rescind the acknowledgment, you will need a certified copy from DOH. To obtain the certified copy you will need to provide proof of your identity and pay a fee. The fee is $35 as of July 23, 2007. You can call DOH at 360-236-4300 and verify if a paternity acknowledgment is on file prior to making a request.

What are my legal rights when I sign a Paternity Acknowledgment?

Federal law requires you to receive both written and oral information about your rights and responsibilities when you sign a Paternity Acknowledgment. A statement of your rights and responsibility is on the back of the Paternity Acknowledgment form. It is very important that you read that statement. You can hear the oral information by viewing a short video which is available at the hospital, birth clinic, your local health department and any DCS office, or you may call the toll free number 1-800-356-0463. Someone may also read the statement to you. Do not sign the form until you have received and understood both the written and oral information

Can I sign the Acknowledgment even if I am under age 18?

In most cases a person under 18 years of age is considered a minor. Effective June 13, 2002, a Paternity Acknowledgment signed by a minor is valid. Minors who sign the acknowledgment form will be held to the same standard as adults except for an extended period for rescission.

Can I change my mind if I sign a Paternity Acknowledgment?

Either parent who signs a Paternity Acknowledgment may change his or her mind within a limited period of time. The legal term is called a rescission. To rescind a signature, you must initiate a court action within no more than 60 days after the Paternity Acknowledgment is filed at DOH. If either signatory was a minor when the Paternity Acknowledgment was signed, the person who was a minor must file a court action to rescind the acknowledgment on or before that person's 19th birthday. If the court grants the rescission, DOH will remove the man's name from the birth certificate.

What if I change my mind more than 60 days after I sign the Paternity Acknowledgment?

After the rescission period, a challenge to the acknowledgment may be filed in court for limited reasons up to 4 years after the acknowledgment is filed with DOH. You will need to prove in Superior Court that you signed the form as a result of fraud, duress, or factual mistake. If you file a court action after 2 years but before 4 years, the child must be made a party to the action. A guardian ad litem will be appointed.

What if I am not sure I want to sign a Paternity Acknowledgment?

You should sign the Paternity Acknowledgment only if you are sure that you are the biological parent of the child. If you have further questions, you may call DCS at 1-800-442-KIDS (5437). You may want to consult an attorney. If you decide not to sign the acknowledgment, you may ask the court to establish paternity.

Do I need to have a genetic test?

The Paternity Acknowledgment form will ask the father to affirm whether or not he has submitted to genetic testing. The father does not need to have a genetic test in order to sign the form, but he may choose to do so at his expense. A genetic test compares many different factors in the DNA of the father, mother and child. A genetic laboratory will issue a report which explains whether the man is the likely biological father. If paternity is established through the court, the court will likely require a genetic test if there is more than one possible father.

How do I establish paternity through the courts?

When should paternity be established in court?

Usually, it is best to establish paternity through the courts if there is any question about the identity of the father. For example, if the mother believes there is more than one possible father. There may be other reasons also. If either the man or the woman is unsure about signing the acknowledgment or the woman's husband or registered domestic partner is unwilling to sign a denial, then establishing paternity in court may be the best option.

How do I open a parentage case in court?

Often the state can help establish parentage for your child if you apply for services with DCS. If DCS accepts your case, DCS will usually refer your case to a county prosecuting attorney. The county prosecutor acts on behalf of your child and cannot represent you in court or give you legal advice. The prosecutor can answer general questions about your parentage case.

How is parentage established in court?

If the state is trying to establish parentage, a county prosecutor will usually serve legal papers upon the possible father or fathers. Often, the prosecutor or the court will require the mother, possible father(s), and the child to submit to genetic tests. The court will enter an order establishing parentage.

Are there costs to establish parentage in court?

If the prosecutor is establishing parentage in court on a DCS case, you will not be charged a filing fee. However there may be other costs associated with establishing parentage in court. If a man is determined to be the father he may be ordered to pay the costs of genetic tests or other court costs.

How do I establish parenting rights such as custody and visitation?

Custody and visitation issues are usually addressed in a legal document called a Parenting Plan. Regardless of whether parentage was established through marriage, a registered domestic partnership, acknowledgment, or the courts, only the courts may address legal custody and visitation issues. Therefore, a parentage action must be filed with a court. Often parents can agree on parenting plans by consulting with a mediator or court facilitator. Parents will still need to file the plan with the court. Contact your county court facilitator or other legal resources for further information.

Who can help me establish parentage or answer further questions?

Call 1-800-442-KIDS (5437) to obtain the phone number of a DCS office near where you live. You may consult an attorney. You may call toll free at 1-800-945-WSBA to find out if there is a lawyer referral service in your county. Low income people may qualify for reduced cost legal assistance. To find more about reduced cost legal assistance, call the King County Bar Association at 206-623-2551 if you live within King County. If you live outside of King County, call the CLEAR LINE AT 1-888-201-1014.