What you need to know about Paternity
Unmarried parents of a child or children have the same rights and responsibilities as married parents. Legal paternity can be established by the agreement of the biological parents when a child is born, or at any time after the birth. If there is a dispute concerning who is the father of a child, parentage can be established by DNA testing. Either parent can file motions with the court to seek resolution if there is a disagreement about custody of the child, the parenting schedule, child support or other child-related issues.
Paternity means establishing legally that a person who was not married to the mother of a child at the child’s birth is the legal father of that child. Once paternity is established, the father gains rights related to custody and visitation and obligations related to the support of the child, and the child gains the right to inherit from the father and receive governmental benefits based on his earnings.
Oregon and Washington
In Oregon there are several ways paternity is established. If a child is born during marriage, the husband is presumed to be the father. If a child is born to unwed parents but the parents later marry, or an unmarried father agrees to paternity both parents can sign a notarized “Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity” form to be filed with the state. In these instances, the father’s name is then added to the birth certificate. Oregon honors a voluntary acknowledgment made in another state. When there is no agreement on paternity the father may establish paternity through the Oregon Child Support Program by filling out an Application for Child Support Services and sending these to the address stated on the form. The mother may begin to establish paternity by filing a petition to establish paternity. The alleged father must respond within 30 days of being served with the petition, or he will be automatically declared the father.
Washington law delineates parentage and paternity guidelines in “the parentage statute,” RCW 26.26. This law typically applies to unmarried, heterosexual couples who have a child but may also apply to same-sex couples who, for example, have a child through assisted reproductive therapy or surrogacy. The parentage statutes may be used to establish a “parenting plan” for a child whose parents are unmarried. The parentage statutes also provide methods of establishing parentage for parents who were not married at the time of their child’s birth. The courts in Washington may also apply the common law (court established) of de facto parentage, which provides a means for someone who has fulfilled a parental role to a child (without a biological or adoptive relationship to the child) to establish a parental relationship.
Custodial issues between parents can often spark many challenges. For unmarried couples, the issues involved can seem even more complicated. It is important to know that mothers and fathers, whether you are the noncustodial or custodial parent, have rights. The best way to learn about your rights is to speak with one of the experienced attorneys at McKean Smith.
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