You barely remember signing the hospital papers after your first child was born. You know that there were insurance questions and other issues because you and your significant other were not married, but you and your wife signed your names to the birth certificate and several other forms. You never thought you would be looking at them in court, wondering how a piece of paper could affect your right to be in your child’s life.

What Is an Acknowledgment of Paternity?

An acknowledgment of paternity, also called a paternity affidavit, is a legally binding way to establish the parentage of a child. Both parents are asked to sign the document, which legally attests that the person named as the father on the form is the child’s only possible father. Parents may sign the form in the hospital or after you take your child home, but once you do, you will carry all legal obligations of parenthood.

What Does Acknowledgment of Paternity Do?

There are many important things a paternity acknowledgment will do for you and your child. First, by establishing you as the child’s father, it attests that you will have all legal rights and responsibilities regarding your child. It provides a right to request custody, demand visitation, and acknowledges your responsibility to provide child support. However, a paternity acknowledgment:

  • Does NOT establish custody. Even if you have attested that you are the child’s legal father, you are not guaranteed any custody or visitation rights. One or both parents must file an action called a Petition for Residential Schedule to enter a custody order.
  • Does NOT set the amount of child support. It is up to one of the parents (or the state) to request a child support order. The child support amount will be established by the Division of Child Support.
  • CAN travel state-to-state. Under Washington State law, a paternity affidavit, acknowledgment, or denial will be considered valid if it was filed legally in another state. If you are moving from Washington to another state, you should verify that state’s laws with regard to paternity beforehand.
  • CAN be rescinded. While a paternity acknowledgment is legally binding, it may be invalidated if it was signed by a minor parent or if paternity fraud is discovered.

If you have any reason to suspect your child’s true parentage, you should ask for a paternity test before your separation is complete. For more ways to protect yourself and provide for your family in a divorce, click the link on this page to begin reading our FREE book, The Thinking Man’s Guide to Divorce in Washington.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington