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How to Establish Paternity for Unmarried Fathers

Child Carried by FatherMarried men would be the presumed fathers of a child in a marriage if they married the mother before the child’s birth. The same is true for separated or divorced men if they have been married less than 300 days before the child’s birth. The case is different for unmarried fathers.

They do not automatically have rights over their child under Washington law. Even if the father knows that it is his child, he cannot claim it without proof. He has to establish it legally. If successful, the unmarried father can then get the court to give him parental rights, including child custody.

A child custody attorney in Kent such as Feldman & Lee PS can help with establishing paternity.

Acknowledgment of Paternity

An unmarried father can get parental rights to a child by signing an “acknowledgment of paternity” form. This comes under the Revised Code of Washington under Section 26.26.300. The problem for some unmarried fathers is the mothers must also sign it. The mother may not want to sign it.

Even if the mother is willing, it will not work if the mother was married to another man at the time of the child’s birth. It will also not work if the mother had already acknowledged another man as the father of the child. The petitioner can file a case in court in these last two circumstances.


Another way for an unmarried father to get legal rights to a child is to file a Petition to Establish Parentage with the state court. If the mother agrees that the petitioner is the father, the court will not require any more proof to give the father legal rights to the child.

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However, if the mother refuses to cooperate, the court will need some proof to establish paternity. The usual way is to get genetic testing. If the test shows that the petitioner is the biological father, the court will then issue an order of parentage.

This means the petitioner now has legal rights to the child, including parenting time. In some cases, the father may ask for full custody of the child.

Establishing paternity is not always a simple thing for unmarried fathers. A child custody attorney can help with that first step. The next step is to get parenting time or even full custody of the child.