Ending a relationship is always challenging, especially when you and your significant other share children together. Unfortunately, figuring out how to divide parenting time isn’t nearly as easy as it is to determine who gets to keep the silverware or the furniture. If you are dealing with a child custody issue after a break-up, you have to consider each parent’s parental rights, their relationship with your child, and several other factors.

If you are trying to figure out what will happen to your child custody arrangement after a break-up, make sure you know which factors the court considers before making any custody orders.

Establishing Parental Rights

For married parents, determining parental rights is usually very straightforward, but when a child’s parents are unmarried, it can be much more difficult to determine parental rights. And, in order to obtain any type of custodial rights, you must first establish that you have parental rights to the child in question. In Washington, as in most states, unmarried fathers must establish paternity in order to receive acknowledgment as the child’s legal parent.

Without establishing paternity, an unmarried father will not automatically receive parental rights, even if he is the child’s biological father and has assumed a paternal role in the child’s life. A biological mother, on the other hand, is automatically granted parental rights. Likewise, if a married woman gives birth, her husband is presumed to be the father and he receives parental rights automatically. 

In order to establish parental rights, an unmarried father must sign an acknowledgment of paternity, along with the child’s mother. Or, if the child’s mother will not sign the acknowledgement, the father can file a petition to establish parentage through the court, which usually involves genetic testing to confirm the paternity.

Once a father obtains paternal rights, he has the right to pursue custody in the same way a mother would. Both mothers and fathers have equal rights to child custody.

How Is Child Custody Determined?

Child custody is determined on a case-by-case basis, which means there is no standard arrangement that all unmarried couples use when they break up. Parents have the option of settling a parenting plan through mediation or outside of court, but if they are not able to reach an agreement on their own, they will have to bring their case before a judge.

In court, the judge will consider the following factors before determining child custody:

  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • Each parent’s health and ability to care for the child
  • The child’s relationship with each parent’s community, household, and other family members
  • If one parent acted as the child’s primary caregiver in the past
  • The child’s wishes, if the child is deemed mature enough to express an opinion
  • Any history of domestic violence or abuse