When She Says You Are The One – Paternity Challenging

father and son walking together

When two people love each other very much…. Or at least enough…. A baby can be the result. One or both of those loved-enough adults may be married at the time, although not necessarily to each other. These circumstances sometimes result in one spouse in a marriage contesting the parentage of a child born by the other spouse.

First, note that this blog post uses the terms “spouse” to mean the person in the marriage who did not give birth to the child and “mother” to mean the person in the marriage who gave birth to the child. The law uses this same vernacular because it applies equally to same-sex couples (although the underlying facts may be very different).

When a child is born to a mother who is married, their spouse is the presumptive parent. If the spouse signs any document acknowledging paternity, the presumption is solidified and cannot be undone short of a termination of parental rights – which is a complex, rare, and often unsuccessful process.
1,461 days and 1,461 nights, the law will be on her side:

Even if the spouse never appears on the birth certificate and no one officially acknowledges them, the spouse of the mother is still the presumptive parent of the child. Yes, the legislature is aware that deviations from monogamy happen. However, the child’s best interest is presumed to involve the support of two parents. If no challenge to paternity is filed in the first 4 years of the child’s life, the presumption solidifies. It is very difficult to eliminate that status at that point, regardless of whether the eyes are like yours.

However, there are exceptions for surprise children – if the spouse never resided with the child, never held out the child as their own and can prove they are not the genetic parent, the presumption can be overcome later than 4 years after the birth.

If there is a child with questionable parentage in a marriage, divorce often follows. When people divorce in Washington, it is mandatory to address the status of all minor children. If the spouse does not challenge paternity then, before the dissolution is final, they will be presumed the parent even if 4 years has not passed. Remember, this entire chapter of the law also applies to same-sex couples.

The lie becomes truth

What about if you know who the other actual biological parent is? Even if you can prove that a third party is the biological parent, the Court may determine it is in the child’s best interest to keep the spouse as a parent and give the child more than two parents! A child’s interest in support and nurture are high priorities of society; a higher priority than relieving a person of caring for a child not biologically theirs.

Take my strong advice – remember to always think twice.

The deadline to challenge presumptive parentage is 4 years from the birth or the final dissolution decree, whichever comes first. If the spouse can prove they are not the biological parent and they did not live as a parent for the child, that time limit may be extended. All that said… the needs of the child come first; before basic principles of biology. Without significant legal effort, spouses will be presumed the parent of a child born in a marriage, even if conception was outside of the expected bounds of the marriage.

If a child’s parentage is ever in question in your marriage, it’s important to act swiftly and get legal advice on your possible courses of action. Seek out lawyers that not only practice dissolution but are experts in the complexities of parentage.

Washington Family Law Attorney Walton Dabney

Attorney Walton L. Dabney

"My pronouns are He/Him, and I am a family lawyer. I am a champion for non-traditional families. I create constructs of agreements to ensure any adult can partner with any other adult(s) to create the living situation they choose and raise their children how they wish – while maintaining legal rights and protections."