There are a lot of myths and misinformation floating around about divorce, parental rights and unmarried families. In recent decades, it has become increasingly common for couples to commit to one another and even start a family without formally marrying.
People may have any number of reasons for choosing not to marry their partner. There are typically very few issues related to not being married as long as you stay a couple. When you split up, however, the potential arises for substantial complications.
For fathers who did not marry the mother of their child, it is common to believe that not getting married could mean you don't have any rights or responsibilities to that child. However, you do have both legal obligations to and legal rights regarding your children.
Is your ex willing to work with you?
For most unmarried couples, the biggest issue will be whether both parents are willing to work together. It is possible for unmarried couples to set shared custody terms that are reasonable for the parents and beneficial for the children.
Even if you haven't asserted your paternal rights before, you may be able to do so now by discussing your desire to continue your relationship with the children with your ex. If your ex isn't willing to work with you, you will probably need to take legal action in Auburn.
How do you obtain visitation as an unmarried father?
The first step toward securing visitation with your children as an unmarried father is to prove to the state of Washington that you are the father. In some cases, this can be pretty simple. If your ex listed you as the father on the birth certificate, that could be all that you need to assert your rights.
However, if your ex didn't list you on the birth certificate and isn't willing to fill out a voluntary form acknowledging you as the father, you will probably need to take more direct legal action.
The courts can help you establish paternity
The quickest way to establish paternity is through genetic testing. However, if your ex doesn't want you to prove your parenthood, they likely won't submit the child or children for genetic testing.
Fortunately, the courts can compel such testing, requiring your ex to present the children for genetic testing and holding them in contempt if they fail to do so. Genetic tests are typically highly accurate and reliable, so if the test shows that you are the father, that will probably be all the courts require to establish your paternity.
With rights come responsibilities
Establishing yourself as the father of your children lets you take a more active role in their lives. However, with the official acknowledgment of your paternity comes the responsibilities that go with it. In addition to shared custody, you will likely have some legal requirement for support of the children.
However, paying child support is a small price for an ongoing relationship with your children. Establishing paternity in a contentious non-marital breakup is hard, but it doesn't have to be impossible. Working with an attorney can help you make the best out of a complicated situation.