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What Does “Paternity” Mean in This Context?
As part of a parentage action or similar proceeding, courts have the power to determine the legal father (paternity) or mother (maternity) of a child. Most commonly the courts determine the father rather than mother, since the child’s birth records usually establish maternity.
How Do Courts Determine Paternity?
Washington law presumes paternity in certain situations. For example, a man is presumed the father of a child who was born within 300 days of the man’s divorce from the mother. For a full list of these presumptions, see RCW 26.26.116. Such a presumption can be overcome, but only with convincing evidence, such as a blood test, presented at the earliest opportunity. Failure to challenge the presumption of paternity within the child’s first few years of life can render the presumption unrebuttable.
When no presumption applies, a man is not deemed the legal parent of a child absent proof. Again, this proof often comes in the form of a blood test. Upon proper request, a court must order an alleged father to submit to blood or DNA testing unless that alleged father successful proves he did not engage in sexual intercourse with the mother.
Legal paternity can also arise under the following conditions:
- A woman giving birth to a child.
- Surrogate gestation or parentage.
- An acknowledgment of paternity. An acknowledgment of paternity is a legal form, often signed at birth. A father can rescind his acknowledgment of paternity, but only within a finite period of time.
- Consent to a spouse or domestic partner undergoing assisted reproduction.