OVERVIEW OF THE PATERNITY/PARENTAGE PROCESS
Thank you for your interest in our office and our legal services. It is our goal to provide you with professional and efficient legal services. In order to make you more fully aware of the future course of your paternity case, it is important that you have full and complete information regarding the process through which your case will continue until its final conclusion.
Disclaimer: The following overview of the paternity process is intended for information only and is not intended as a substitute for meeting personally with Gregory L. Davies and getting legal advice regarding your specific matter.
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A paternity case can be complex and confusing. Whether you decide to process your paternity case yourself or hire our office to work with you, there is no substitute for proper legal advice to ensure your paternity case is properly prepared, filed, negotiated, and finalized.
What is Paternity?
A paternity case is a legal proceeding to establish the legal relationship between a child and a parent of the child. A parent of a child includes persons in a domestic partnership to the same extent they apply to persons in a marriage, and persons of the same sex who have children together to the same extent they apply to persons of the opposite sex who have children together.
How is the Legal Relationship Established?
The parent-child relationship is established between a child and a man or woman by:
(1) The woman's having given birth to the child, except in surrogate parenting;
(2) A court order establishing the person's parentage;
(3) Adoption of the child by the person;
(4) An affidavit and physician's certificate in surrogate parenting;
(5) If the parties are married or in a domestic partnership;
(6) The mother of a child and a man claiming to be the genetic father of the child may sign an acknowledgment of paternity with intent to establish the man's paternity;
(7) The person's having consented to assisted reproduction by his or her spouse or domestic partner; or
(8) A valid surrogate parentage contract, under which the person asserting parentage is an intended parent of the child.
How Do I Start a Paternity Case?
To start a case the appropriate initial Summons and Petition and other documents must be filed with the Snohomish County Superior Court Clerk located in the Snohomish County Superior Courthouse in Everett, Washington.
Washington State has adopted pattern paternity forms that are required to be used in paternity proceedings. The pattern forms can be found online or purchased from the Snohomish County Superior Court Clerk. If you choose to prepare your own paternity case you will need to obtain the proper forms. Please refer to our website in “Services” under “Resources” for links to the Washington State forms website and the Snohomish County Superior Court Clerk’s website.
If you choose to hire our office to assist you with your paternity case our office will provide the appropriate pattern forms.
Current Filing Fee:
The current filing fee is $260.00. If you are on a limited income you may be able to apply to the court to either waive the filing fee or postpone the payment of the filing fee.
Finalize Paternity Cases:
There are two ways to finalize a paternity case or for that matter any litigation: (1) the parties reach an agreement on all issues and therefore settle the case or (2) if there is no agreement on all issues, a judge will decide the disputed issues at a trial.
Generally, in contested cases, temporary orders are entered by the court for appropriate pretrial issues to include, but not limited to, mutual restraining orders, appointment of a guardian ad litem, various appropriate evaluations, temporary parenting plan for the children, and temporary child support. These temporary orders remain in place until the court signs final paternity documents.
Agreement, Settlement or Mandatory Mediation:
Agreement or settlement is the preferred way to resolve a paternity case. Parties have more control over the final outcome, it is generally less expensive and quicker to reach an agreement or settlement. If the paternity case proceeds to trial the parties have lost control over the outcome and the expenses are greater. Parties may reach an agreement or settlement between themselves; parties may reach an agreement or settlement with the assistance of attorneys; or parties will be required to attend a mandatory mediation session with a neutral third-party mediator to try to reach an agreement or settlement.
If the parties have not reached an agreement or settlement either on their own or with the assistance of their attorneys, they are then required to attend mandatory mediation as a precondition for trial. Professional mediators generally charge between $250.00 to $300.00 per hour. Parties generally split this fee equally. Mediators expect to be paid before or at the mediation session. Parties engaging in mediation are expected to participate in good faith and make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement or settlement on any disputed issues. Parties are not required to reach an agreement or settlement and mediators have no authority to impose any decision on the parties regarding disputed issues.
Mediation sessions are confidential and neither party may disclose any discussions engaged in at mediation in any court proceeding. Mediators cannot be called as witnesses.
A trial will be necessary to resolve and finalize a paternity case if the parties are not successful in reaching an agreement or settlement. In Snohomish County a trial is assigned generally 4 to 5 months out and there is no pre-assignment of a judge for a case for trial. A paternity case only goes to trial if the parties have engaged in mandatory mediation but were not successful.
At trial a judge will listen to both sides testify and present evidence regarding their respective positions and at the conclusion of the trial will render a decision detailing how the children of that relationship are provided for both physically and financially.
The final paternity documents are then prepared by either the parties or their attorneys and then presented to the court for approval. Once the final documents are approved the paternity case is final.
Parenting Plan for Children:
A parenting plan is a legal document that concerns itself with the physical placement of the children with both parents. The issue of the physical placement of the children can be very complex, emotional and costly if the parties are at odds over what to do with the children.
Washington State has statutes and case law that deals with this issue. A judicial officer concerned with the physical placement of the children is required to consider certain factors in deciding how a parenting plan will deal with the physical placement of children. The statute directs a judicial officer to consider the following:
Limitations on Parents:
A court will consider whether either one or both of the parents have any limitations that negatively impact the children or impair a parent’s ability to care for the children. Washington State statutes list the following limitations a court may consider:
(1) Willful abandonment that continues for an extended period of time or substantial refusal to perform parenting functions;
(2) Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of a child;
(3) A history of acts of domestic violence or an assault or sexual assault that causes grievous bodily harm or fear of such harm;
(4) The parent has been convicted as an adult of a statutorily defined sex offense;
(5) A parent’s neglect or substantial nonperformance of parenting functions;
(6) A long-term emotional or physical impairment which interferes with a parent’s ability to perform parenting functions;
(7) A long term impairment resulting from alcohol, drug or other substance abuse that interferes with a parent’s ability to perform parenting functions;
(8) The absence or substantial impairment of emotional ties between a parent and a child;
(9) The abusive use of conflict by the parent which creates the danger of serious damage to the child’s psychological development;
(10) A parent has withheld from the other parent access to the child for a protracted period of time without good cause; or
(11) Such other factors or conduct which the court expressly finds adverse to the best interests of the child.
Once the above limitations are examined, the court then turns to additional factors to be considered.
The court shall make residential provisions for each child which encourage each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child, consistent with the child's developmental level and the family's social and economic circumstances. The child's residential schedule shall be consistent with state law. Where the eleven (11) limitations listed in the law above are not applicable or do not completely effect the makeup of the child's residential schedule, the court shall consider the following additional factors:
(i) The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child's relationship with each parent;
(ii) The agreements of the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily;
(iii) Each parent's past and potential for future performance of parenting functions* as set forth below, including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child;
* "Parenting functions" means those aspects of the parent-child relationship in which the parent makes decisions and performs functions necessary for the care and growth of the child. Parenting functions include:
(a) Maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child;
(b) Attending to the daily needs of the child, such as feeding, clothing, physical care and grooming, supervision, health care, and day care, and engaging in other activities which are appropriate to the developmental level of the child and that are within the social and economic circumstances of the particular family;
(c) Attending to adequate education for the child, including remedial or other education essential to the best interests of the child;
(d) Assisting the child in developing and maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships;
(e) Exercising appropriate judgment regarding the child's welfare, consistent with the child's developmental level and the family's social and economic circumstances; and
(f) Providing for the financial support of the child.
(iv) The emotional needs and developmental level of the child;
(v) The child's relationship with siblings and with other significant adults, as well as the child's involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities;
(vi) The wishes of the parents and the wishes of a child who is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to his or her residential schedule; and
(vii) Each parent's employment schedule, making accommodations consistent with those schedules.
Factor (i) shall be given the greatest weight.
The court requires all parents with minor children to participate in a mandatory parenting class. There is a fee for the class which is based upon a sliding scale tied to a parent’s income. Upon completion of the class, a Certificate of Completion is issued which must be filed with the court clerk.
Criminal Background Check:
Washington statutes require a criminal background check to be conducted on all adults who will be residing with minor children. These background checks are done by the court at no cost to the parties. These background checks are reviewed by the court at the time the final parenting plan is presented to the court for approval.
Guardian Ad Litem:
In contested cases involving minor children it may be appropriate for a guardian ad litem to be appointed. A guardian ad litem is a professional who represents the interests of the minor children. A guardian ad litem does an independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the children and makes a report to the court regarding those circumstances along with recommendations for a parenting plan.
The cost of the guardian ad litem may be paid by Snohomish County if the parents’ income allows. However, in most paternity cases the parents will be expected and required to pay the Guardian ad Litem fees.
Washington statutes require parents to financially support their minor children. Parents cannot agree to waive child support except in certain narrow circumstances and only upon approval of the court.
A common misconception is that a parent who does not pay court ordered child support is not entitled to visitation. Child support and visitation are not dependent on each other. A parent who is not paying child support is still entitled to visitation.
Child support is based upon the income of both parents. If the parents are employed and working full-time, child support is generally easy to calculate. If one or both of the parents is working part-time, a court may use income based on full-time employment for a parent who is not working full-time for the purpose of child support calculation. Additionally, if a parent is “voluntarily unemployed or underemployed” a court may also use income based on full-time employment for such parent for the purpose of child support calculation. Examples of voluntary unemployment may include a mother who stays home to take care of children, a parent who is attending school full-time, or other such circumstances.
Once the income of both parents is calculated pursuant to statute, child support then is based upon child support schedules that have been adopted by the Washington State Legislature. A DSHS child support calculator online link is in our website in “Services” under “Resources.”
Each parent’s contribution to child support is based upon the child support schedule and the percentage of each parent’s income that goes into the total combined income of the parents.
Once child support is calculated by a court, an Order of Child Support is entered by the court.
The reasonable and necessary cost of work related daycare for minor children is paid by both parties in the same percentage as their contribution to child support. This cost is in addition to child support.
The cost of reasonable extracurricular activities for minor children, if appropriate, is also paid by both parties in the same percentage as their contribution to child support. These costs are also in addition to child support.
A court generally will not require parents to contribute to a private school unless there is a history of the children attending a private school or the parents agree. The cost for private school is in addition to child support.
Both parents are financially responsible for the reasonable and necessary health care of the children. Both parents may be required to pay for healthcare insurance. All uninsured healthcare costs for minor children are paid for in the same percentage as each parent’s contribution to child support. These costs are in addition to child support.
Where Child Support Is Paid:
In most cases child support is paid to the Washington State Child Support Registry in Olympia. However, a court may direct that one parent pay their child support directly to the other parent.
The IRS tax exemptions for children may be allocated by the court between the parents.
Termination of Child Support:
In most cases child support terminates upon a child reaching the age of 18 years or graduation from high school, whichever occurs last.
Post High School Education Contribution:
In some cases parents may be required by the court to contribute to their children’s post high school education expenses; these expenses include, but are not limited to, tuition and books for college, vocational or technical education. There are a number of factors considered by the court in determining whether a parent will be required to contribute and to what extent.
Modification of Paternity Orders:
The court has continuing authority to modify parenting plans and child support until a child is 18 years of age or graduates from high school whichever occurs last.
Attorney’s Fees and Costs:
A court, in its discretion, may award attorney’s fees and costs to be paid by one party to the other party. A court will consider the respective incomes and resources of the parties and balance the needs of one party against the ability of the other spouse to pay attorney’s fees and costs of the other party.
Our attorney’s fees are based on an hourly rate along with an estimate of the amount of time we believe it will take to finalize your paternity case. Our current fees are listed on our website in “Services” under “Fees.” Paternity cases that are resolved by agreement or settlement will cost less than paternity cases that are contested and must be resolved by a trial judge.
Note to Do-It-Yourselfers:
If you choose to do your own paternity case, we always recommend you have our office review your paperwork before you file it with the court. We do charge a minimal fee for this review or any other services you request. We also encourage you to consult with our office during the paternity process as you feel the need. If, at any time, you feel overwhelmed with the paternity process and doing it yourself, we will be ready to take over your representation.
Our office keeps itemized billing records that are created at the same time as specific services provided for your case. This itemized billing statement is provided to you at the end of each month. You should review this billing statement carefully as it is not only a record of our time and charges for your case but also a record of our services provided.
Our office also prepares a written attorney fee agreement for each case. The agreement is signed by you and Gregory L. Davies. The original is kept in our client file and a copy is provided to you.
Thank you for your interest in our office and our legal services. If you have any questions concerning your paternity case (or any other legal matter), whether you hire our office to work with you or you are processing your paternity case yourself, please contact our office to set up an appointment to meet with Gregory L. Davies.
To find out more about how our law firm can help you with your paternity case needs, contact Gregory L. Davies, Attorney at Law, in Everett, Washington. Call (425) 259-2755 or email us.