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How does an unwed parent fight for custody?

If you have had a child with a partner that you are not married to, you may wonder how your parental rights differ from those of a married parent. Even if you are not married to the parent of your child, you have rights that courts have to honor, including a right to fight for custody. There are a few things every unwed parent should understand about the process of petitioning for custody.

A married parent does not necessarily have any rights that an unwed parent cannot gain, but you may have to advocate for yourself and your child. Consider the following tips for gaining custody, even if you are not married to your child's parent.

Establish paternity

Whether you are the child's mother or father, it is important to establish paternity. For mothers, establishing paternity is important to ensure that that child's father does not attempt to deny responsibility. For fathers, establishing paternity is imperative in gaining custody and parental rights. This is the first step to fighting for custody for an unwed parent. 

Secure parental rights

Prior to advocating for custody, you should take steps to secure basic parental rights. According to ParentalRights.org, Washington does not have any statute defining such rights, but if your child were facing a medical emergency or needed assistance at school, would you be legally able to step in? For parents who have not established their rights, sometimes this becomes an issue. You should ensure that your name is on all official documents and provide contact information to your child's school or caregiver.

Build your case

Once you have established paternity and secured parental rights, you can proceed with advocating for custody. Regardless of whether you are the child's mother or father, this can be a difficult process. You should consider why you believe you should have primary custody and gather evidence to support this. All these factors will ultimately determine your case, so it is wise to be well-prepared.

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