Paternity is the basis of a dad’s parental rights and parental responsibility in Washington. Married men get automatic parental rights. For unmarried dads, action must be taken to establish paternity. Notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nearly one-third of children in Washington State are born to unmarried parents.
This raises an important question: Can an alleged father refuse to take a genetic paternity test? The answer depends on the circumstances—if a lawsuit is filed by the mother, a court may order a paternity test. Failure to comply could carry serious consequences, even jail time. Here, our Spokane family law attorneys explain the key things to know about paternity disputes in Washington.
Know the Options to Establish Paternity in Washington State
When you are in Washington State, there are two options that you have available.
Where There is No Dispute Over Parentage
There are a number of different ways to establish paternity in Washington State. The most simple and straightforward is for married couples—a married father gets automatic access to parental rights and parental responsibilities when his wife has a child.
There is also a relatively straightforward option for unmarried couples who agree on parentage. They can jointly submit an Acknowledgment of Parentage (AOP) form. By doing so, the unmarried couple will establish paternity for the child. An AOP can be completed at any time.
When There is a Dispute Over Parentage
If there is a dispute over a child’s parentage, genetic (DNA) testing will often be required. Ideally both parties—the father and the mother—will agree to submit the appropriate DNA samples so that the matter can be resolved. However, if the father refuses to submit to genetic testing, a biological mother still has legal options available. She can file a paternity action in court (a lawsuit) to seek a finding of paternity.
A Man Will Not be Physically Forced to Submit—But Contempt of Court Finding is Possible
The overwhelming majority of paternity disputes that end up in court are ultimately resolved through a paternity test. Once a lawsuit is filed against an alleged father by a biological mother, the court can issue an order that states that the man must submit to genetic testing. That being said, the court does not have the power to “physically force” genetic testing in a paternity case.
However, failure to comply with court-ordered paternity testing can result in contempt of court finding. Contempt of court carries very stiff penalties in Washington State. An alleged father who refuses to comply with court-ordered DNA testing may be subject to an immediate arrest. Further, a default judgment could be entered on behalf of the mother—meaning legal paternity could actually be established without genetic testing.
Get Help From Our Paternity Lawyer in Spokane
At Hodgson Law Office, our Spokane paternity lawyers are dedicated to providing personalized guidance and support to parents. If you have any questions about paternity and genetic testing, we can help. Contact our family law firm today for a confidential case review. We handle paternity cases throughout Eastern Washington, including in Spokane County, Whitman County, and Grant County.