If you and your ex-partner were never married or in a domestic partnership together, and you share a child, creating a parenting plan may feel a bit more complicated. Initiating a plan looks a bit different than if you were married, but your parental rights can be just as protected.
It's important to know how you will need to assert your custody rights in this case, as it makes a significant difference in how a final parenting plan will be decided. The first step should be to establish parentage.
Under Washington law, motherhood is established upon the child's birth or adoption. Fatherhood is established in one of three ways if you weren't married or in a registered domestic partnership:
- Court action
Establishing paternity through acknowledgement is done by having both parents sign a paternity affidavit or acknowledgement, which swears under penalty of perjury that the person the form names as the father is the only possible father of the child. It's possible you already signed this, as hospital staff typically gives this form to an unmarried mother after the child's birth.
However, this is not considered a court order. If you wish to establish parentage by court action, you would file a parentage petition in Superior Court to ask the court to either establish legally who the child's parents are or, in most cases, to approve a child parenting plan and/or set child support.
Establishing parentage helps individuals create a parenting plan and give both parties equal footing in any final decisions, and could be handy if there is a need for custody arrangement adjustments in the future.
Finalizing parenting plans
A family law judge will review the parenting plan you and your ex have created to determine if it provides the most loving and stable relationship between the children and each parent.
If you and your ex can't agree, the judge will make the final decision on their own. Joint custody is an option and the child's wishes are considered, but the judge is likely to grant more time with the parent who was seeing to the daily needs of the child.
Regardless of whether or not you and your ex agree on a custody plan, working with a family law attorney before filing anything in court can help you ensure your parentage is properly established and custody rights will be upheld.