You might be one of many parents in Washington state who have children with someone you have never married. In fact, if your kids have passed their 5th birthdays, it might mean that you and your partner have been living together as an unmarried couple for a long time. If you have decided to part ways, it could spark custody problems.

If you are a father, you’ll want to establish paternity if you haven’t already done so. Established paternity places you on equal footing for custody in a Washington family court. There are guidelines in place, however, whether you are a father, mother or are in a same-sex relationship, to determine what is best for children regarding custody and visitation when a set of parents decides to go their separate ways in life.

Custody, child support and co-parenting plans

If both parents’ names are on a child’s birth certificate or listed as adoptive parents, they have a legal right to pursue custody of the child if they have decided to end their romantic partnership. If you and your former partner can discuss child-related issues in an amicable fashion, you can negotiate terms of agreement for custody on your own, then seek the court’s approval of your plan.

In many cases, this type of peaceful negotiation isn’t possible. If this is true in your case, you can ask a family court judge to make custody decisions on your behalf. Which parent becomes a custodial parent and which parent has visitation privileges, as well as who pays child support, etc., is not determined by marital status. In other words, not being married to your child’s co-parent doesn’t mean you don’t have parental rights.

Issues that make custody proceedings complex

If you’re headed to a Washington court for custody proceedings, you’ll want to be aware of issues that add complexity to a case. For instance, you may or may not be a biological parent of your children. You might have evidence to show the court that your former partner is unfit for custody. These and other issues often influence the court’s decisions and can make child custody issues difficult to resolve, which is why it’s best to have legal support on hand.

If you believe that an unfavorable child custody decision is unfair, you may be able to file a notice of appeal through the proper legal channels. Examples of legitimate reasons for filing an appeal might include jurisdiction errors, failure to allow evidence or failure to consider the best interests of a child.