We often talk about child custody as an issue in divorce, but child custody can be also be a legal issue for parents who were never married. Generally, both married parents and unmarried parents who are separating have the same rights when it comes to determining custody in the state of Washington. However, unmarried couples may have a couple of additional hurdles to overcome before the court can award custody.
For married couples, determining custody will come up as part of the divorce process. For unmarried couples who are separating, one or both parents will need to file an action to start the custody and child support determination process.
For heterosexual married couples, the husband is presumed to be the father of any child born during the marriage. If the couple is unmarried, the father will have to establish paternity in one of two ways:
- An acknowledgment of paternity: Both parents can sign an acknowledgment of paternity.
- Genetic testing: The court can order the father to submit to genetic/DNA testing to establish paternity.
Once the court issues the order of parentage, the issues of child custody and child support can be addressed. The separating parents can come up with a parenting plan, just as a married couple would. The parenting plan details how they will share time with the child and who will make major decisions relating to the child.
If you are not married to the mother or father of your child, a family law attorney can help protect your rights as a parent.