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Paternity Issues for Unmarried Parents: Establishing Paternity, Child Support, and Custody Arrangements

For unmarried parents, the joy of welcoming a child is accompanied by a unique set of legal considerations. Establishing paternity is a crucial step that not only ensures the child's well-being but also defines the legal rights and responsibilities of each parent.


The Importance of Establishing Paternity

Establishing paternity offers significant benefits for both the child and the parents:

  • Child's Well-Being: A court-ordered paternity establishment ensures the child receives essential financial support from both parents for basic needs such as housing, food, and healthcare. Additionally, a legally established father guarantees the child's inclusion on the father's health insurance plan, inheritance rights within the father's estate and survivor benefits.

  • Parental Clarity: Establishing paternity eliminates uncertainty regarding child support obligations and allows both parents to pursue legal avenues for custody arrangements if necessary.


Methods for Establishing Paternity

Unmarried parents have two primary methods for establishing paternity:

  • Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity: For many parents, this is the preferred method due to its simplicity and efficiency. Hospitals often provide these forms at birth, allowing both parents to acknowledge paternity through a legally binding document.

  • Court-Ordered DNA Testing: In cases of disagreement about paternity or when the voluntary form is not completed, the court can order DNA testing via a Parentage Petition filed at the Superior Court in Washington. This test is used to conclusively establish the biological father of the child.


Addressing Child Support Obligations

For unmarried parents with a court-ordered paternity establishment, child support becomes a key aspect of financial responsibility for the child's well-being. Child support calculations typically consider both parents' income and the child's needs. Factors such as daycare costs, healthcare expenses, and the number of children in the family are also taken into account by the court when determining the appropriate child support amount.


Custody Arrangements for Unmarried Parents

Unmarried parents have access to the same custody arrangements as married parents going through divorce. This usually means a Parenting Plan with the following components:

  • Residential Schedule: a predetermined schedule for parenting time and child exchange arrangements.

  • Major Decision Making Authority: Clarity on how one or both parents will share major decision-making authority regarding the child's upbringing.

  • Dispute Resolution Framework: A predetermined plan for how potential future parenting disputes will be resolved.

The court will determine the most appropriate custody arrangement through a parenting plan based on the child's best interests, considering factors such as the parents' living situations, parenting abilities, and the child's emotional well-being.


The Benefits of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

In some cases, unmarried parents can utilize ADR to reach agreements on child support and custody arrangements outside of the courtroom. This approach, which can involve mediation, arbitration or collaborative law, allows parents to work out solutions with the help of a neutral third party, fostering communication and potentially leading to more amicable resolutions.


Seeking Professional Legal Guidance

Paternity issues can be complex, and the laws governing child support and custody arrangements vary by jurisdiction. If you are an unmarried parent facing questions about paternity, child support, or custody, consulting with an experienced family law attorney is essential. We at View Ridge Family Law & Estate Planning are here to support you. Contact us today to get started.

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