Child Custody Decisions in Washington

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 What is a Parenting Plan in Washington?

A custody or visitation order can also be referred to as a parenting plan. A temporary parenting plan is utilized while the case is still ongoing or before the final decision is made. A permanent parenting plan assigns rights and responsibilities to each parent and includes the specific time the child will spend with each parent, which parent will make decisions regarding the child, how disputes between the parents will be resolved, and any limits on parenting functions.

Furthermore, the goals of the parenting plan are to provide for the child’s physical care, maintain the child’s emotional stability, provide for the child’s changing needs, set forth the responsibilities of each parent, minimize the child’s exposure to parental conflict, encourage the parents to avoid relying on judicial intervention and to protect the best interests of the child.

The parenting plan will grant decision-making authority to one or both parents regarding the children’s education, health care, and religious upbringing and will set forth a residential schedule (where the child resides).

However, regardless of who is granted the decision-making in the parenting plan, either parent may make emergency decisions impacting the health or safety of the child. Additionally, each parent may make decisions concerning the day-to-day care and control of the child while living with that parent. The term “parenting functions” encompasses the decisions and functions that a parent performs that are necessary for the care and growth of the child.

Parenting functions may include the following:

  • Maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child;
  • Attending to the daily needs of the child, such as feeding, clothing, physical care, supervision, health care, and daycare;
  • Ensuring the child is receiving an adequate education;
  • Helping the child in developing and maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships;
  • Making good decisions regarding the child’s welfare, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s
  • social and economic circumstances; and
  • Providing for the financial support of the child.

Moreover, a parenting plan can be issued as part of a:

  • Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce);
  • Petition for Legal Separation;
  • Petition to Establish Parentage (Paternity);
  • Petition to Modify Custody;
  • Petition for Non-Parental Custody, which is an action filed by a non-parent for custody of a child; or
  • Petition for a Parenting Plan is filed when paternity has been established, but no parenting plan was entered.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Filing a Parenting Plan?

There are many reasons why you may choose not to file for a parenting plan. You may decide that you do not want to involve the courts or already have an informal agreement with the other parent that is functional for you. You may think that going to court will provoke the other parent to seek more time with your child and more legal rights, which you do not want them to have.

However, it may be useful to obtain a court-ordered parenting plan in some situations. For instance, a parenting plan may reduce conflict with the other parent because the rights and responsibilities of each parent would be stated clearly in the plan.

What is Child Custody in Washington State?

Washington State uses several types of criteria to determine child custody. Mostly, Washington State evaluates custody based on the child’s best interests or welfare, similar to other states nationwide. Washington State expects parents to present a parenting plan before a custody hearing. The court will either approve the plan or not. Keep in mind that parents who want to file for child custody in Washington State should first become familiar with the custody statutes in this state.

Furthermore, in Washington State, one or both parents may be granted legal or physical custody of a child. Legal custody will determine which parent may make day-to-day decisions for a child, such as health, medical, and educational decisions. However, either parent may make emergency decisions for a child while in custody, regardless of the legal custody arrangement mentioned earlier.

A court in Washington State will consider awarding both parents joint physical custody under the following circumstances:

  • Each parent’s participation in the decision-making of the child’s life;
  • Each parent’s proximity to one another and how that proximity will affect decision-making for the child; and
  • Whether the parents can and will cooperate to make decisions for the child.

Moreover, in Washington State, a parent not granted custody of a child is entitled to reasonable visitation rights. Visitation may be limited if a parent has acted in the following way:

  • Abandoned the child for an extended period;
  • Physically, sexually or emotionally abused the child;
  • Had a history of domestic violence;
  • Assaulted or sexually assaulted the child and caused bodily harm; and
  • Received an adult sex offender conviction.

In Washington State, a parent seeking a modification of child custody should present a motion to modify custody and a decree explaining the facts supporting the modification. The parent seeking a modification should also serve it to the other party and the court. A parent will need to prove that there is a substantial change of circumstances in the current custody arrangement and that the custody modification serves the best interests of the child.

What Factors are Considered in a Child Custody Case?

The Marital Laws define certain factors that are utilized in a child custody case. The court will consider the following factors in determining custody:

  • The child’s relationship with each parent;
  • The consenting agreements of the parties involved;
  • Each parent’s overall defined parenting functions;
  • Whether a parent has taken greater responsibility in parenting than the other;
  • The overall needs of the child;
  • The child’s relationship with siblings and other adults, including the child’s involvement with their physical surroundings, school, and other activities;
  • The wishes of the parents and the wishes of the child (if sufficiently mature to come to a reasoned preference); and
  • Each parent’s employment schedule, making accommodations corresponding to those schedules.

Furthermore, in cases where the court has made a finding of domestic violence or child abuse, the court may not mandate a victim of domestic violence or the custodial parent of a victim of child abuse to disclose to the other party information that would reasonably be expected to enable the perpetrator of domestic violence or child abuse to obtain previously undisclosed information regarding the name, location, or address of a victim’s residence, employer, or school at an initial hearing. The judge prioritizes the privacy of that party and does so to protect them from any further harm.

Moreover, in situations where domestic violence or child abuse has been alleged, but the court has not yet made a finding, the court will provide the party alleging domestic violence or child abuse with the opportunity to prove the abuse. The court will carefully examine and weigh the safety interests of the victim before issuing orders which would mandate disclosure in a future hearing if abuse is involved.

When Do I Need to Contact a Lawyer?

If you live in Washington and are experiencing issues with child custody, do not hesitate to reach out to a local Washington child custody lawyer to assist you in your case. A qualified lawyer can provide you with the legal advice and representation needed for your child custody issues.

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