When children are born into the world, their parents are responsible for caring for and protecting them for the first many years of their lives. Since this support and care are so important to a child’s physical and mental health, many states including the state of Washington have put laws into place to help protect children and the parent/child relationship. When problems regarding either of these issues arise, they are resolved in the family court system. Some of the issues heard in Washington family law court can include paternity, child custody, and child support, not to mention other issues regarding parental rights.

Effect of a Father in a Child’s Life

Mothers have been long regarded as the most important person in a child’s life. This is due to the traditional role mothers have played as “stay-at-home” moms while fathers were out in the workforce earning an income. As the “traditional” family structure has changed over the years, we have seen more mothers out in the workforce earning for the family while the fathers stay home to care for children. This has also brought about an increased emphasis being placed on the important role fathers play in the children’s lives and how they contribute to their overall development.

While fathers are equal to their female counterparts in caring for children, they also play an important role in their child’s development. Some studies have suggested that fathers who are involved and loving have a positive impact on how children develop language and social skills. Additionally, hands-on fathers positively impact how their children perform academically. Since both mothers and fathers play such important roles in their children’s lives, many family court judges work to keep both parents equally involved when child custody issues arise in court.

Voluntarily and Involuntarily Establishing Paternity in Washington

It is more common today than in years past for children to be born outside of marriage. Many committed couples who are not married decide to start a family either because they do not wish to get married at any point or because they plan to marry later on. In cases where a child is born to unmarried parents, it is important for the parents to take additional steps to establish the child’s paternity. In cases where a couple is married, it is automatically assumed that the mother’s husband is the child’s legal and biological father, and no additional legal action needs to be taken to establish paternity.

In the state of Washington, there is a voluntary and involuntary method for establishing a child’s paternity when his or her parents are not married. The voluntary process is decidedly easier to complete and can be used when both parents are in agreement as to who the child’s father is. This voluntary process involves both parents reviewing and signing a “Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity” form, which can be done at the birthing center or hospital when the child is born. Additionally, this form can be acquired later at the Division of Child Support office or health department.

Both parents must sign the Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity form in the presence of a notary public. Once the form has been completed and notarized, it is sent to and filed with the Center of Health Statistics for Washington State – if the form is filed within a period of five days after the child is born, the parents are not responsible for paying a filing fee. Once the paperwork has been processed, the father’s name can be added to the child’s birth certificate, and that individual is officially considered the child’s legal and biological father.

When someone, either the child’s mother or the presumed father, disputes paternity, an involuntary process can be used to establish paternity. This is done through a court case in which the court issues an “order establishing parentage,” which legally establishes the child’s legal and biological father. The mother, the alleged father, the child him or herself, or an agent of the state (if the child is receiving state assistance) can file a motion with the court known as a “Petition to Establish Parentage” to begin court proceedings.

After the alleged father receives proper notice of the court case, if he does not show up in court, the court can enter a default judgement naming that individual as the child’s legal and biological father. If the alleged father does appear in court, and he and the child’s mother agree on the child’s paternity, the judge enters a judgement of paternity naming that individual as the child’s legal and biological father. The father’s name is then added to the child’s birth certificate, and he takes on the rights and responsibilities of being that child’s parent.

If either party denies the child’s paternity or is uncertain, the judge can order a DNA or genetic test to prove the child’s biological father. DNA samples are collected from the child, the mother, and the alleged father generally by swabbing the inside of their cheeks. Once these samples have been analyzed, if the alleged father is a 99.9% or more match, he is named the child’s biological and legal father. The official judgement is then issued, and the individual takes on the responsibilities of being the child’s father.

Father’s Rights to Child Custody and Visitation

Once the child’s paternity has been established, the judge can move to make other determinations including child custody, visitation, and child support. When making a child custody determination in Washington, the judge evaluates both parents equally and does not favor one parent over another based on gender alone. Judges also take the “best interests of the child” standard into consideration, meaning they make custody decisions that best support the child’s mental and physical well-being regardless of the wishes of either parent. Ideally, both parents share custody.

In situations where joint custody is not an option, the judge moves to name a primary custodian and arrange visitation for the non-custodial parent. Even in this instance, the judge works to set a visitation schedule that keeps both parents fully involved in the child’s life as this is within the child’s best interests. If the father is named the primary custodian, he has the same right as a mother would to petition for and collect child support. Additionally, a father has equal access to the child support enforcement services offered by the state of Washington.

How a Father’s Rights Lawyer Can Help

The issues of paternity, child custody, and child support can be emotional and overwhelming to deal with, especially for those who do not understand how the court system works. Therefore, it is always within the best interests of a father facing these issues to seek the legal help of a knowledgeable father’s rights attorney. These legal professionals are well versed in family law and can help guide their clients through legal proceedings and ensure that their father’s rights are being honored and upheld in court.

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