When an unmarried couple has a child together, each parent has an equal legal right to custody and parenting time unless the court determines otherwise. The couple can agree to a parenting plan about how to share time and custody or one parent can petition the court for custody and the other parent can respond with his or her own petition.

Learn more about how the child custody system works in Washington for unmarried parents.

Establishing paternity

Parents who want to establish their child’s legal paternity can either file a Paternity Acknowledgement signed by both parents or file a Parentage Petition, which asks the court to determine paternity. Either document can accompany a Petition for Parenting Plan and/or Child Support.

Washington also recognizes de facto paternity. If you prove that you have acted as a parent, lived with the child and fostered a parental relationship, the court may decide it is in the child’s best interest to continue this relationship.

Filing a Petition for Parenting Plan

You should file this document in Washington if the state has jurisdiction over your children. This means they have either always lived here and/or they are not subject to a custody order from a different state. In your parenting plan, you can ask for full or shared residential authority, which means the person with whom the child will live, and/or decision-making authority, which refers to legal custody.

Awaiting a response

The court will serve the other parent with your Petition for Parenting Plan and/or Parenting Petition. He or she can respond with a separate parenting plan or agree to the plan you created in your petition. After both parents present evidence, the judge will sign a version of the parenting plan and it will become legally binding.

Many parents become confused by child custody matters, especially when they are not married. The Washington court system can help ensure that you are able to keep up a relationship with your child.