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Protection for Unmarried Parents in Washington

Unmarried parents possess many of the same protections that divorcing parents receive concerning child custody and visitation issues. The court bases these decisions on the best interests of the child and doesn't focus on whether the parents were ever married. However, a key difference between married parents and unmarried parents is that unmarried fathers must take an extra step to establish paternity to obtain parental rights. This doesn't apply to a man who's married to the child's mother.

Protection for Unmarried Parents in Washington at a Glance

Although an attorney is a reliable source for obtaining the specific meanings in statutes, you can become informed about the law before meeting with counsel. Read the chart below for a basic explanation of laws that apply to protections for unmarried parents in Washington.


Washington Revised Code:


Establishing Paternity


  • The husband is the presumptive father of a child born to a married couple, but an unmarried father must first establish paternity before he can assert any custody or visitation rights.
  • In Washington, this is accomplished when both parents sign an "acknowledgment of paternity."
  • If the mother of the child is married to another man at the time of the child's birth or if the mother has acknowledged another man as the father, then the man seeking paternity might have to file a paternity lawsuit.
  • If the child's mother won't sign the acknowledgment of paternity, then a father may file a petition to establish parentage in the state court in his local Washington county.
  • The court can order genetic testing to confirm the paternity.
  • When the court issues an order of parentage, then the father's legal relationship to the child is established. He may then proceed in getting custody, visitation, and child support issues resolved.

Custody and Visitation Rights

Parenting Plan

In Washington, a parenting plan gives parents specific rights, including time spent with the child and decision-making for the child.


One parent may have more time spent with the child or they can split time equally. All decisions are made in the parenting plan, which is either agreed upon by the parents or determined by the court.


If a parent doesn't get physical custody of the child, they are entitled to reasonable visitation rights.

Child Relocation

A protection for parents (including, unmarried parents, if they have visitation rights/residential time) is the right to be informed of a proposed move.

Before a custodial parent can relocate, they must give notice to the noncustodial parent.

Notice must:

  • Be sent at least 60 days prior to the move;
  • Must include the proposed new address; and
  • Must include reasons for the relocation.

The noncustodial parent has the right to file an objection within 30 days of receiving notice. However, the parent can't object to a relocation within the child's current school district.

The custodial parent typically can't move the child without a court order during the 30 days objection period.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Protection for Unmarried Parents in Washington: Related Resources

Get your Parenting Rights Questions Answered by an Attorney

The protections for unmarried parents in Washington mirror those for divorced parents. However, there may be issues such as establishing paternity that are different and need to be resolved. Turn to an experienced attorney for help. Get started now by contacting a Washington family law attorney.

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