As a parent, you have a father’s rights in Washington state. These include the right to take part in the raising of your children, in determining their education, moral upbringing, and more. Providing that the courts recognize you as the father of your child, these rights can only be challenged through a custody case. Possible results of a custody challenge could include splitting your access to your child with the mother, or potentially having even more limits imposed.

Unlike many decades ago, mothers no longer receive an unfair advantage in custody cases. While it’s true that the majority of custody battles still end up a victory for the mother, the number of fathers with sole custody is rising. When faced with a potential custody battle, it’s important to understand that you have a father’s rights in Washington state, and that you can protect them. In Washington state, the father is determined through marriage, a parentage case, adoption papers, or a paternity acknowledgement.

If the biological father is not married to the mother, he must establish paternity to gain rights as a father. Unmarried fathers do not have rights until they prove their paternity. If you are not the child’s biological father, you may still defend your rights as a de-facto parent – by providing “specific facts” to support your claim as a parent of the child, according to relevant statutes in the Revised Code of Washington. These facts include, but aren’t limited to, proof of the following:

    • The child lived with the parent for a significant time period.
    • The parent engaged in consistent caretaking of the child.
    • The parent undertook full parenting responsibilities without expectation of financial compensation.


Since changes in family law have “mandated equal treatment in child custody cases,” fathers can stand up for their rights to play a major role in the development and caretaking of their child. However, the courts don’t favor fathers, either. The courts favor the child and seek the best possible outcome for the child. Ideally, Washington state custody cases are deliberated between the father and mother, with a mutually-written parenting plan dividing certain roles and responsibilities between them. In less-than-ideal situations, though, the courts must intervene and decide who plays what role.


Part of designing and agreeing upon a parenting plan is consenting to be reasonable in regard to future decisions, including potential changes to the plan. In general, simple communication with the mother can resolve certain issues. Unfortunately, sometimes disputes reach past the point of casual conversation. Therefore, parenting plans often include a process through which third-party mediators and/or legal representatives help make decisions. If a mediator is not enough to resolve the dispute, you may take the dispute to arbitration. In Washington state, only until after arbitration has been attempted (and failed) can the issue be taken to court.


You have a father’s rights in Washington state, but more so, the right to be a father to your child. Likewise, you have the right to seek representation to defend your ability to provide for your child and make meaningful decisions in their life. Legal help may not always be necessary when deciding how to raise your child with your child’s mother. However, there are times when the only option left to resolve a dispute is to take it to court or communicate through third-party legal professionals. If the mother of your child is violating the parenting plan and refuses to stop, you may have no choice but to take her to court.


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