Your legal rights as a parent are some of the most important rights you will ever have. If you are embroiled in a divorce and child custody case, your relationship with your children can be affected for years to come. If the case gets particularly bitter, it can cause damage you can never repair. If you’re a mother, you need to have the best child custody lawyer on your side to help you understand every nuance of your case.
How is Child Custody Determined in Washington State?
Child custody laws vary depending on where you live. It’s essential to know your rights as a mother in the state where you live. In Washington state, your rights vary depending on your relationship with the other parent. For example, parents who were legally married and are now divorced have a different set of criteria than those who never legally married.
Several criteria determine child custody in Washington. First and foremost, the welfare and best interests of the children are considered. In the state of Washington, you are expected to present a plan to the court detailing how you wish parenting to go. The court can either approve or reject the plan. Before submitting a child custody request, you must understand the statutes governing child custody cases.
In Washington, the word for child custody is “conservatorship.” A conservatorship is the ability to make the important decisions about raising the children. One parent can be awarded sole conservatorship, but parents can share the decision-making in a “joint conservatorship.”
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Legal and Joint Custody in Washington
Either or both parents can be awarded physical or legal custody of the children. Whichever parent is granted legal custody makes daily decisions for the children. These include medical and educational choices. Regardless of the custody arrangements, either parent has decision-making rights in an emergency when the child or children are physically with them.
Both parents can be awarded joint physical custody in the following situations:
- Both parents actively participate in decision-making.
- Where the parents live in relation to each other and how decision-making is affected by that
- How well the parents can and do work together when making decisions
Before and After the Final Divorce Order in Washington State
At times, parents can choose to separate without officially getting divorced legally. When that happens, the family court can decide custody for the duration of the separation. Having court orders regarding child custody can help parents know their changing role. Parents are less likely to argue about custody issues when the court has already created custody orders.
Your final divorce order in Washington state must include plans for child custody. You don’t always need to fight for custody in front of a judge. You can often negotiate appropriate plans without having a bitter battle. Having a good child custody lawyer on your side will help you with the negotiations as an experienced attorney will often know solutions you haven’t considered.
Unfortunately, there are times when parents don’t agree regarding custody issues, even with the help of an attorney in negotiations. In those instances, you may find that having the judge decide what is in the best interests of your children is the way to go. Hiring the best mother’s rights attorney is imperative if you find yourself in front of a judge. A lawyer with experience in child custody matters can give you insight into how they think your case will go in front of the judge.
The Parents Were Never Legally Married, Now What Happens?
If you are a parent in a relationship where there was never a marriage, you may wonder about your custody rights. In this situation, child custody for fathers is a little more complicated. Paternity must be clearly established before custody rights are granted. The courts can use a DNA test or presume paternity when the name is on the birth certificate.
After paternity is established, the court will make decisions similar to those in a divorce or legal separation case. A parenting schedule will be created, and the court will decide who can make decisions for the children. Like with a separation or divorce, the couple can build their parenting agreement or let the judge decide custody issues.
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Non-traditional Couples and Child Custody
When the parents are members of the LGBT community, child custody is not as cut and dried as in other cases. The first step is establishing paternity, which may not be as easy in the instance of LGBT parents. If both names are on an adoption certificate, it’s easier than it would be if nothing is establishing legal rights as parents.
If there is no adoption paperwork or the parent doesn’t have a biological link, the parent may be forced to file for custody as a “de facto” parent. Working with an experienced custody lawyer can help you decide the best way to claim your rights as a parent. After establishing paternity, the cases with non-traditional parents are treated like any other custody case. The best interests and welfare of the child are still the most critical considerations for child custody.
Visitation: Is It Guaranteed in Washington?
If you aren’t granted custody, you are entitled to have visitation with your child. However, there are situations where visitation can be limited. If a parent has:
- Had domestic violence in their history.
- Abandoned the children for a lengthy period
- Abused the child physically, emotionally, or sexually
- Assaulted the child physically or sexually, causing bodily harm
- Has been convicted of an adult sexual offense
Other Cases Involving Child Custody
Sometimes, the other parent may already have custody of your children, but you’ve been notified of an impending court case involving your child’s welfare. Perhaps a teacher or other professional suspected abuse or neglect and reported it to the local child welfare agency. You or your family can do things to help ensure that your child is safely and quickly returned to the family.
In cases that involve protective services, both parents have certain rights. Those rights include:
- Advance notice of all hearings regarding the case.
- The opportunity to answer any allegations of neglect or abuse that someone has made.
- The chance to not only attend but also participate in court proceedings. You are allowed to have any assistance you need to be able to participate. Assistance can include an interpreter when necessary.
- You have the right to have an attorney to help protect your legal rights. You may qualify for free legal services in some states if you need them and can’t pay for them.
- You have a right to be heard by an unbiased judge who hasn’t already formed an opinion in your case.
- You have the right to continue contacting your child unless the court or child welfare agency determines it isn’t in the child’s best interest.
- You may request custody. If you don’t currently have custody of your child, you have the right to request that you be considered the custodial parent in your situation.
There could be other rights you have in child welfare cases. To understand your rights, consult the best mother’s rights attorney in your area. The attorney should be able to explain your rights and help you fight for them.
What Are Your Responsibilities?
Child custody cases are not meant to be a battle between you and the other parent or the professionals in the case. These cases are intended to protect your children’s rights and responsibilities.
Responsibilities Outside of Court
- Stay in contact with your lawyer because your lawyer can help you understand what’s happening and will help you advocate for your rights.
- If there is a caseworker involved, remain in contact with them. Keep them apprised of any changes in your personal information. Staying in touch with the caseworker helps them understand that you are committed to the child’s welfare.
- If you have been given things to do in order to stay in contact with your child or retain custody of them, it’s your responsibility to ensure you complete the tasks promptly.
Responsibilities in Court
- Go to every hearing or meeting. This helps to preserve your right to participate. It helps maintain your right to be involved in decisions regarding your future with your children.
- Follow any orders given by the court. If you don’t follow orders, you could have the ability to see your children taken from you.
Responsibilities to Your Child
- Court can be scary for children. Talk to them and visit with them as often as possible. It’s your job to ensure they feel safe and they understand what’s happening.
- Think about requesting permanent custody of your child.
- Ensure your relatives support your child and have your child’s best interests in mind.
- Be the best parent possible. If you are doing the best you can, your child will feel safer than if you just back off and refuse to do what the courts or caseworkers request.
You Need an Experienced Bellevue Child Custody Lawyer on Your Side
Whether you are involved in a divorce proceeding or other case regarding your child’s welfare, you have legal rights. In Washington state, contact Aberdeen Family Law to learn more about your rights or request help preserving them. Having the best mother’s rights attorney on your side can help you protect your parental rights and maintain your relationship with your children.