As we enter Father’s Day weekend, it seems appropriate to highlight the topic of fathers’ rights in Washington State. Many people don’t realize that fathers are on equal ground with mothers in Washington State. Until a court determines otherwise, each parent has the same rights and responsibilities to their children. When Parenting Plans are determined, the standard is “best interest of the children” and does not automatically favor the mother, as is often assumed.

Historically, family courts have been notably biased against men and fathers, generally assuming mothers should retain primary custody while fathers pay child support and spousal maintenance. This has shifted over time in Washington State. Family courts are no longer making automatic decisions based on old-fashioned stereotypes of gender roles and rather make decisions motivated by the best interest of the child(ren). The court will respect the roles of both parents and will determine which parental situation is better for the child.

Unmarried fathers do need to legally establish paternity of their children according to Washington State law in order to assert their parental rights and ask for court-ordered custody, child support, or parenting time. Unmarried parents may jointly agree to identify a man as the acknowledged father by signing an “acknowledgment of paternity”, which establishes paternity of a child (RCW 26.26.300). Both parents must sign the acknowledgment. If an unmarried father is attempting to establish paternity and the mother does not cooperate, court adjudication may become necessary. The court may need to order genetic testing to confirm the unmarried father’s paternity. If the court issues a parentage order, the man seeking to establish paternity becomes the adjudicated father. Married fathers generally fall under a legal presumption of fatherhood and have automatic parental rights as the presumed father.

Whether the father is presumed, adjudicated, or acknowledged, he has the right to file for a Parenting Plan or residential schedule to establish custodial rights and visitation. The father can petition the court for a plan that suits his preferences and he can disagree and rebut a Parenting Plan petitioned by the mother. Washington State law will consider the petitions and prioritize the best interest of the child.

If you have questions about paternal rights in Washington State or if you are seeking legal counsel, please contact us as soon as possible. Our experienced family law attorneys are strong advocates, recognizing the unique aspects of each case. We are committed to helping you achieve the best outcome in your case, insisting on the best interest of your children. Contact us today for a consultation.

Happy Father’s Day!