The paternity of a child born to non-married parents can be established one of two ways: judicially through the entry of a court order or administratively with the filing of a paternity acknowledgement form. Establishing paternity creates a legal relationship between a parent and child.
The Family Support Division establishes paternity judicially through the entry of a court order in King County Superior Court. Judicial paternity actions address the following:
- child support
- back support
- health insurance for the child
- custody of the child.
A parenting plan or residential schedule can also be requested in the context of a parentage action.
The same legal remedies are available with an administrative establishment of parentage (paternity acknowledgement form), however neither a parenting plan or a residential schedule can be entered in an administrative action.
To request services related to the establishment of paternity please contact the Department of Health and Social Services(DSHS), Division of Child Support.
Questions About Establishing Paternity
A man cannot be obligated to pay child support until he is legally the father and is listed on the child’s birth certificate. A father’s name is put on the birth certificate if:
he and the mother are married at the time the child is born (he is called the presumed father) or
he and the mother sign a paternity affidavit or
a court order establishes him as the father.
Contact the Division of Child Support (DCS) to pursue getting child support.
If a father is already listed on the child’s birth certificate, the Division of Child Support can set support administratively. If no father is named on the child’s birth certificate, then DCS will refer the case to the Family Support Division to establish paternity and set support through the court.
A man is a "presumed father" of a child born during the marriage (or within 300 days of a divorce). Even though husband and wife might have been separated for a while and/or they know the husband is not the biological father of the child, the husband is still considered the “presumed father” until a court order is entered that says the husband is not the father or until another man is legally established as the father of the child.
A child support order can be set against a presumed father until a court order is entered stating the husband is not the father or until another man is legally established as the child’s father.
A paternity affidavit is a legal document, signed by the mother and the father (and the presumed father if the mother was married when the child was born) which legally establishes the father, adds his name to the birth certificate and gives him potential rights (visitation) and responsibilities (child support) of being a father. While it is a quicker way to establish paternity than through the court process, it can be hard to undo if someone changes their mind. The mother and potential father should carefully read the paternity affidavit and make sure they know the consequences of signing a paternity affidavit.
If both the mother and father agree (and the child was born in Washington), they can sign a paternity affidavit and take it to the Division of Child Support, where it can be notarized and sent to the Department of Health in Olympia for filing. This service is provided free of charge.
If the father has passed away, the Family Support Division cannot file a court action to establish paternity. Any lawsuit against a deceased person must be filed against the deceased person’s personal representative as part of a probate action. Our office does not handle probate actions.
In some very limited circumstances, we may be able to help get genetic testing done so that the child can get social security death benefits, if otherwise eligible. If the father of a child has recently passed away and you are interested in genetic testing, call our office:
The Family Support Division of the Prosecutor’s Office files court actions to establish paternity of children. You do not have to be on public assistance to qualify for this service. Our office will only file paternity cases which have been referred to us by the Division of Child Support. Contact DCS 1-800-457-6202 for information about starting a paternity action.
Our office will only do genetic testing when we have filed a court action to establish paternity. We do not do genetic testing in cases our office has not filed in court.
If your name is on the birth certificate because:
. . . someone told the hospital that you were married to the mother but you were not actually married to the mother. Call the Division of Child Support at 1-800-457-6202 and tell them you want to do a “paternity establishment action.”
. . . you were married to the mother. You are legally presumed to be the father until you get divorced and your divorce addresses paternity of the child in question or you file a “disestablishment action” Our office does not handle either type of court action. Since there are time limits on when you can seek to disestablish paternity, you should consult with an attorney.
. . . you signed a paternity affidavit. You must act within certain legal time limits if you want to undo a paternity affidavit. Our office does not handle rescissions or challenges to paternity affidavits. You should consult with an attorney as soon as possible or if you want to try and look into it on your own, the legal time limits are in the statute called the Uniform Parentage Act, RCW 26.26.
. . . a Court Order established you as the father of a child. You have to bring a court action to “vacate” the court order. If our office was involved in the court order establishing you as the father, we can review the case to figure out what, if anything, our office can do. Call our Seattle Office at 206-296-9020 or Kent at 206-296-9595 to have the Request for Paternity Case Review form sent to you. Once you return the completed form, our office will contact you.
For information about an attorney, you can contact the Washington State Bar Association or the King County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service.
Or you can contact the King County Superior Court Family Law Facilitator’s Office or call Seattle 206-477-2553 or Kent 206-477-2781.
If you have a Current Paternity Action Filed by our Office
The Family Support Division has filed a paternity action. Now What?
No, the Family Support Division does not represent either the mother or the father. The deputy prosecuting attorney in your case represents the State of Washington. If you want an attorney to represent you, you must hire one.
A GAL is a Guardian ad Litem, who is a family law attorney appointed to determine whether or not genetic testing should be done. Whether a GAL is appointed in your case or not depends on several factors such as the age of your child, whether or not there is more than one possible father, and whether the alleged father has a relationship with the child.
In paternity cases filed by the State, GALs are not appointed to investigate the mother and father’s parenting skills or make recommendations as to custody or visitation.
If you are going to ask the court for a parenting plan, then you must attend this seminar before the court will sign your parenting plan. This seminar is required by the court and is run by Superior Court through Family Court Services. The King County Prosecutor’s Office cannot answer questions about the seminar.
If you have any questions, or want to schedule your attendance, visit the Family Court website or call 206-477-1464 in Seattle or 206-477-2745 in Kent.
Yes, you must attend.
A settlement conference (also called mediation) is required by the court. It is free. This is an opportunity for you to work out the issues in your paternity case by agreement. The mediator is neutral and does not represent either parent. Each parent is in a separate room and the mediator goes back and forth to negotiate agreements between the parties. You benefit because you have more direct input and control. You can discuss the issues with a mediator informally and in more detail than when providing testimony at trial. The mediation is scheduled for 4 hours, but it can be shorter or longer, depending on the issues. You should not bring children to the mediation. If the mediation is successful, the parents will sign agreed final orders and your case will not need to go to trial.
If you are involved in an ongoing paternity action, parenting issues may be addressed. If you do not have an open paternity case, contact the Court Facilitators for help with your parenting plan action at:
You may also visit the King County Superior Court website.
If you have not yet been legally established as the father of the child you may need to start a paternity action. Visit the Division of Child Support (DCS) (external link) or call 1-800-442-KIDS (1-800-442-5437) for information about starting a paternity action
There is probably not much you can do until there is an actual a violation of the Court’s order. If your concerns are serious, you should have an attorney to represent you in this situation.
If you do not have an attorney, the King County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service may be helpful. They can be reached at:
Photos courtesy of Creative Commons
"Child laughing," by Cherie Joyful
"Baby Zara, First Look," by Amfrum
"2012 Bring Your Child to Work," by US Department of Education
"Adorable kid," by Sam Nasim