Paternity Actions

A paternity action is an action which may be started by a mother or a father, or the State to establish legal rights regarding a child. Legal paternity may be demonstrated when a parent’s name is on a birth certificate and an Affidavit of Paternity is filed with the Department of Social and Health Services over the name of a stranger. But, how does the law determine the rights between parents? How does a parent get his or her name on a birth certificate if it wasn’t put there in the hospital? He or she files a paternity action. The State also has an interest in insuring that a child is cared for by his or her parents. When the State is involved, “care” usually means financial care. The State will start a paternity action to require a parent pay child support. If a child is collecting financial assistance from the State through a parent or other guardian, the State will start a paternity action to require that both parents provide support for the child.

Paternity Action DadA parent can also make a claim for visitation time or custody rights to a child through a paternity action. It makes economic sense for a parent to request visitation time with their child through a paternity action, even if that action was initially brought by the State to collect child support. In such an action, the attorney for the State represents the child’s financial interests only, not those of the mother or the father. Therefore, either parent may request rights of their own in the context of a paternity action, even if the State brought the action for child support. The State of Washington has passed legislation in uniformity with other States called the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, which means that Washington State will pursue child support from a Washington resident, who is an “obligor” parent, even when the child resides in a different state. Washington State will also initiate an action for child support against an out of state resident if the primary custodial parent, often called the “obligee” parent, resides inside the State of Washington. Collection actions involving the State of Washington are usually done through the Washington State Support Registry.




Paternity Action MomEven if your paternity action is not brought by the State, and you are not on public assistance, you can use the Washington State Support Registry to collect child support on your behalf for a nominal fee (currently $25.00 annually as of 2007). There are advantages and disadvantages to having the Washington State Support Registry collect child support on your behalf, regardless of whether you are the obiligor or the obligee in a child support order. If child support is not the primary issue involved in your paternity action, the State will not likely get involved and you will need to bring a parentage action yourself as a private citizen. A parentage action is necessary to establish your legal rights to time with a child, regardless of whether you are the child’s mother or father against the other parent and against all others who may be involved in your case.




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