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All About Paternity

All About Paternity

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All About Paternity: For Moms and Dads

Finding out you might be a new parent can be both stressful and exciting—for both parents. There is a lot of information and support out there for young mothers, but it’s harder to find information for guys.

If you’re a father and not married to your baby’s mom, you will have to legally establish paternity to have legal rights as a parent. This will affect both parents and your child, so learn more!

What Does Paternity Mean?

Paternity is when the state recognizes the legal father of a baby. If you want help from the state to collect child support you’ll have to establish paternity first.

Check out this video for an overview of establishing paternity:

Why Is It Important for a Child to Have a Legal Father?

As babies grow up into children, it can be helpful for them to know who their dad is and where their family is from. Children who know both their parents also know more about their family history, including important medical conditions like diabetes or life-threatening allergies. Once the baby’s legal father is recognized, the baby can be covered by his health insurance from work, either now or later.

Sometimes naming the biological father as
the legal father is not recommended. For example, if the biological father is abusive or if the pregnancy resulted from a sexual assault.
If the two of you disagree about establishing paternity, you should each talk to someone you trust about your options. If you’d like to talk to an attorney for free, call the CLEAR Hotline.

How Is Paternity Established?

There are several ways to establish paternity. There are a few options:

The parents are married at the time your baby
is born.

The parents fill out a legal form that says who both parents are, and that they take responsibility for the child. This is called a "paternity acknowledgement/affidavit" form.  You can do this in the hospital on the day the baby is born.

If you are unmarried, and both 18 or older, and your child is under 2 years old, you may qualify for the Free Voluntary Paternity Testing Program. Call 1-800-285-1892 for more information.

What if I Don’t Know if I’m the Father?

If you or the baby’s mom are not sure if you are the baby’s father, you may get a letter from an attorney with a court order for genetic testing.  (Genetic testing is just a cheek swab, don’t worry!) If you ignore the letter, the court can make you the legal father and set child support without any input from you. (Tip: Don’t ignore the letter!) You can also find out about genetic testing on your own by calling the Division of Child Support (DCS) at 1-800-457-6202.

What if a Test Shows That I Am Not the Father?

If a genetic test shows that you are not the baby’s biological father, your court case will be dismissed, and the baby’s mom will be asked to name other possible fathers.

Where Can I Find Help?

Talk to an adult you trust. This could be a parent, teacher, coach, or counselor at school.
Or you can call professionals in the field of paternity at the Division of Child Support (DCS) at 1-800-457-6202. You can also talk to an attorney about your options. If you’d like to talk to an attorney for free, call the CLEAR Hotline

Learn More

Learn how to apply for DCS services.

Washington Law Help also has a lot of paternity information and resources for parents in Washington State.