Gregg E. Bradshaw, LLC

Unmarried fathers must establish paternity for parental rights

Not every Washington couple who has a child is married. If you are like many other unmarried fathers across the country, either you decided not to marry the mother of your child or she decided not to marry you. During your relationship, you may not have considered this a problem, but now that it has ended, you find yourself without the parental rights you thought you had.

Just because you never married does not mean that you forfeit your rights as a biological parent. You can still obtain those rights, but you will need to establish paternity first. Before doing so, it may help you to understand the basics of how the state protects unwed fathers.

How do you establish paternity?

Unlike men who are married to the mothers of their children, you do not benefit from the legal assumption that you are the father. You could establish that you are the biological father of your child if you and the mother sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity. If the mother of your child refuses to do so, you could file a Petition to Establish Parentage.

Taking this step may also be necessary if your child's mother is already married to another man whose name is on the birth certificate, or if the mother names another man as the father. More than likely, the court will order a paternity test to scientifically confirm you are the biological parent of the child.

What happens next?

Once the court issues an Order of Parentage, you may pursue custody and visitation rights. Courts often feel that a joint custody arrangement would serve the best interests of the child unless some intervening factor prevents it, such as abuse. The court will then enter a child support order. You and the mother can negotiate a parenting plan as part of the custody process as well, which outlines a variety of things, including when you get to see your child, who has major decision-making authority and more.

Taking these steps could prevent the mother from relocating with your child without modifying the current child custody order and parenting plan. Considering the importance of legal recognition as the father of your child, you may not want to leave anything to chance, especially if the mother is uncooperative. You could make use of the legal resources at your disposal in order to increase your chances of receiving the outcome you envision.

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