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How is child custody different for unmarried parents?

On Behalf of | Apr 18, 2024 | Child Custody

Child custody is inherently a complex and emotionally charged matter since it involves decisions about a child’s living arrangements, care and overall well-being. Nonetheless, some circumstances can further complicate the process, including the marital status of the child’s parents.

The parents’ relationship status can affect child custody arrangements since the process can differ for unmarried couples compared to married couples. How so?

An additional legal step for parents

If a child’s parents are not married, the court automatically grants sole custody to the mother unless the father takes action to seek custody or visitation rights. To do so, the father must first establish paternity before he can pursue his paternal rights to custody and visitation. In Washington, this is possible through voluntarily filing a paternity or parentage acknowledgment or filing a petition in court seeking an order establishing parentage.

Accordingly, just like unmarried fathers cannot seek custody or visitation rights without first establishing paternity, mothers cannot demand child support from their coparents without establishing paternity. This is because unmarried fathers without established paternity do not have legal parental responsibilities, just as they do not have legal parental rights.

Going back to the core principle of custody

Whether you and your parenting partner recently divorced or were never married, it is important to understand that the main priority when determining custody is your child’s best interests. You must make informed decisions that promote your child’s safety and well-being.

This is possible through a thorough evaluation and understanding of your case’s unique circumstances and your child’s unique needs paired with the guidance of a knowledgeable legal representative who can answer your child custody questions.