Parenting can be difficult, even in the best of circumstances. But when parents are divorced or not married, parenting can become even more stressful. Many parents have informal or verbal agreements regarding their children. While both parents should have access to their kids, a verbal agreement can lead to problems down the road. Only a court order will set guidelines that both parents must follow in the care and responsibilities regarding their children. 

Why Informal Arrangements are Not Helpful

Some parents may feel that they are agreeable and therefore they do not need to put a formal order in place. Unfortunately, you and the other parent may not always feel the same way. As time goes on, even parents who were amicable may find they have disagreements regarding their children. When no court order is in place, it does not give parents any way to resolve matters about their children’s custody, visitation, or support

What is a Court Order?

A court order is a legally binding requirement set forth by a judge. A court order provides specific details regarding the essential parts of child custody and support. There are several advantages to having a court order in place. A court order provides specific details regarding how child custody and support must be done. It is a legal order that both parties must follow. The failure to follow a court order could result in contempt charges. A verbal agreement cannot change or supersede a court order. The only way to modify a court order is to go through the court system. Therefore, both parties must abide by the ruling as per the order. 

Custody Laws for Unmarried Parents

Shared parenting can be difficult, even for the most amicable parents. However, parenting responsibilities and rights can become confusing when the mother and father are unmarried. When married parents divorce, they will go through the court to resolve all the settlement matters, including custody, visitation, support, and more. Unmarried parents must request a court hearing to obtain a court order that pertains to their child. An unmarried father will need to file a request to establish parentage or sign an acknowledgement of parentage. Once a father establishes legal paternity he will have the same rights as the child’s mother. 

An unmarried father does not automatically have the right to visit with their child until they establish paternity. Once a father establishes paternity he will have the same rights as the child’s mother. Until that time, the mother does not have to provide access to the child. A court order will establish parent’s rights and responsibilities. A court order can also protect one parent from moving away with the child. In Washington, we utilize parenting plans to provide guidance to families of divorced or unmarried parents. Parenting plans become part of a court order that parents must follow with regards to their child’s custody and visitation. It also establishes child support payments. It is important to note that either parent may file to obtain support or parenting plan no later than four years after the acknowledgement of parentage. 


A court order is critical for both parents. The order specifically outlines the responsibilities and rights of each parent. Without a court order, parenting can become difficult, especially if the parents have an acrimonious relationship with each other. If you are an unmarried or divorced parent you should not hesitate to request a hearing to obtain a court order with help from a knowledgeable attorney. To find out more about the process, contact our experienced attorneys at Hodgson Law Office today at (866) 756-5661.