Child Custody for Unmarried Parents in Washington

Child custody, unmarried parent or not, is handled very similarly between the wedded and the unwedded. The only factor that differs is establishing paternity. Unmarried parents must establish paternity before the courts will decide on custody issues.

That being said, making custody arrangements can quickly become a heated battle. Parents may argue over timesharing, decision-making for child-related issues, and child support. All parents are wishing to part ways – whether married or unmarried – will want to speak to a family law attorney for counsel.

Child-related Issues When Unmarried Couples Separate

Much like divorce, when unmarried couples want to separate, they have to ensure they have a plan for how they will divvy up parenting time, responsibilities, and support. Below are some of the issues you’ll need to address.

  • Establishing paternity: For married couples, the legal system assumes that the husband is the father of the child. If you are unwed, you have to determine the parentage of the child before you can move on to child custody issues. The mother establishes her parent-child relationship by giving birth to the child, per the Revised Code of Washington Section 26.26.101(1).
  • A father can establish paternity by signing an Acknowledgement of Paternity or through a court-ordered paternity DNA test. He may also designate himself as the father by adopting the child or if he lived with the child for the first two years of its life and presented the child to the world as his own.
  • Child custody and child support: Generally speaking, the parents of a child are treated the same under Washington state law.  The courts act in the best interests of the child and may order one parent - regardless of whether they were ever married - to pay the other child support.
  • Fathers may have more difficulty securing partial custody if they must prove paternity and will most likely not win full custody unless the mother is proven unfit. Mothers may have more trouble obtaining child support payments because they must first establish paternity.
  • If you are not filing your taxes as a married couple, only one parent can claim the child as a dependent—and only you and the other parent may decide what is right for your family. To learn more about your particular tax situation, including whether to claim dependents and other child-related deductions, speak with a knowledgeable accountant. 

How Do The Courts Determine Custody of a Child?

In Washington State, parents in disagreement about the care of a child must obtain a court order in regard to child custody. Per the Revised Code of Washington Section 26.09.002, a court will determine custody based on the best interests of the child. As with all child custody matters, the court’s primary concern and motivating factor boils down to what is best for the child.

Having a Family Law Attorney Review Your Case

Any legal issues involving children are very sensitive and potentially volatile. It’s a good idea to have a lawyer give you professional legal advice on how to handle the important matters of custody, visitation, and support.

For a consultation with a family law attorney in Washington, call the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny. Each case is unique. When you meet with Molly, she will review your case and offer advice and information specific to your circumstances. Contact the office today at 425-460-0550.

Molly B. Kenny
Founder and Principal Divorce Attorney
Molly B. Kenny's Bellevue family law office is conveniently located on Lake Bellevue Drive, making it easily accessible to those in the greater Seattle area. Our divorce and child custody lawyers help men and women get the information, guidance, and compassionate representation they need.
Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny