Like many unmarried parents in Washington, you might have concerns about how to protect your parental rights if you and your partner decide to go your separate ways. There are numerous issues to resolve in order to make sure that you meet your children’s needs as they transition from having both parents under one roof to single-parent households. To avoid child custody problems, there are numerous things you can do.
It’s understandable that you want what is best for your children and that you want to make sure to protect your parental rights as you and your kids move on in life apart from your prior relationship with their other parent. It’s important to know where to seek support as you help your children cope, and especially to enlist assistance if legal problems arise.

Washington law defaults custody to the mother

Every state has its own guidelines regarding child custody, whether for married or unmarried parents. In this state, it’s important to note that, if you and your children’s other parent have never been married, the court will automatically grant custody to the children’s mother. This default rule undoubtedly raises concerns for many fathers. The following list shows 10 things parents can do to avoid problems regarding this law and other custody issues:

  • Father can confirm paternity, which places him on equal grounds in court.
  • Attend mediation sessions to resolve physical and legal custody issues.
  • Obtain DNA testing if paternity is in question.
  • Create a parenting plan that enables kids to spend ample time with each parent.
  • Discuss financial issues that factor in child support.
  • Establish protocol for communication between parents.
  • Agree to means of resolution for disagreements that arise.
  • Incorporate details into plan for unique issues, such as special needs for a particular child.
  • Agree to be flexible with time, to cooperate and compromise as needed.
  • Enlist support from family, friends, educators, counselors and legal advocates, as needed.

Each of these 10 steps can help you provide the love and support your children will need in order to adapt to a new lifestyle after you and their other parent have parted ways.

What to do if you are unable to resolve a child custody issue on your own

The fact that you were never married to your children’s other parent in no way suggests that you wish to negate your parental responsibilities if you decide to end your relationship with your co-parent. It also doesn’t mean that you cannot protect your parental rights or your children’s best interests in court, if a problem arises. To the contrary, you may access any and all available resources to help you resolve a child custody issue, including but not limited to pursuing litigation, if necessary.