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Child CustodyCo-Parenting

Child Custody for Unmarried Couples

By December 10, 2019October 1st, 2023One Comment

It’s increasingly common that couples who have children choose not to marry. What doesn’t change, married or not, is the fact that children should have the involvement of both parents whenever possible. 

Most unmarried couples will have similar custody proceedings as divorcing ones, with a few subtle differences. In Washington State, you’ll still have to consider issues such as child custody and support, but the determination of paternity must come first. 

Establishing Paternity

In Washington State, similar to many other places in the country, the husband is presumed to be the father of a child born during a marriage. But, when a child is born outside of marriage, there is no legal presumption of paternity and custody defaults to the mother. 

This brings up the question of why the father would want to establish parentage or paternity for your child. Aside from it being the right thing to do, some of the reasons for the father to take this action include:

  • You want legal custody and visitation rights with your child;
  • You’re concerned that someone else might establish parentage and deny you access to your child;
  • You want your child to share your last name;
  • You want to provide child support or establish inheritance rights for your child; and
  • You want to be able to travel with your child. 

There are several ways that a father can establish paternity in Washington.

Acknowledgment of Paternity 

Section 26.26A.200 in the Revised Code of Washington states that parents can sign an “acknowledgment of paternity” that establishes the child’s paternity and gives the father legal rights to the child. This is not possible if the mother has already signed this form with another man or is married to another man at the time of the child’s birth. This form can be an affidavit or a birth certificate that is filed with Vital Statistics. 

Suing for Paternity

If a father is not on good terms with the child’s mother or otherwise can’t get an acknowledgment signed, the other option is to go through the courts. By filing a parentage petition, the court will order DNA testing to determine paternity. 

Overview of Father’s Rights and Options

A man who has established paternity either by acknowledgment or through adjudication can file an action in the Washington State family law courts for child custody and visitation rights. In Washington State, these agreements are known as “Parenting Plans.” 

The new language reflects the court’s goal of making decisions that are in the best interests of the child. Parenting Plans for unmarried couples are similar to ones for married couples entering divorce. 

In general, unmarried parents of children are treated the same under Washington law if paternity has been established. But, a father may have more difficulty winning full custody unless the mother is proven unfit.

Speak with a Qualified Washington Family Law Attorney

Children need the involvement and support of both parents whenever possible. As a father, you have the legal right to be part of your child’s life and help make important decisions about their care and well-being. 

At Steller Legal Group, our Tacoma family law attorneys understand that paternity and child custody issues can be emotionally draining and complex. Whether you need some sound legal advice or strong representation in court, find out how we can help. Contact our office today. 

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