Can My Child Choose Which Parent They Live With in Washington State?

September 4, 2022

When setting up your child custody agreement, you should always consider the best needs of your child. However, when you are doing this, you might find that your child will be unable to guide you through desires well enough for you to come up with your custody plan, so you will have to come up with decisions without them. If you feel that your child is capable of contributing their ideas then you should include them.

Whether or not your child is capable of making these decisions generally depends on their age. Many times your child may not be able to explicitly decide which parent they would like to live with, but they will have the opportunity to express their ideas in court if they are above the age of 14. Although preference alone won’t be enough to decide which parent they will live with, it will be considered by the court when they consider the proposed custody plan.

Nationwide the rule is that If your child is young than 14, they, unfortunately, will not be able to express their opinion in court. Until then, the court will create a custody plan based on the child’s best interests. Once the child reaches age 14, then you will be able to pursue a child custody modification. Although, in Washington state, the judge might be able to consider the child’s preference at age 9 and up.

In most cases, a school-aged child will spend the majority of their time with one parent that provides a stable environment for their life and education. Depending on the child’s situation they may have regular or occasional visits with the other parent during school vacation and summer breaks.

Many things will come into play when the judge is deciding who the child will reside with such as: living conditions, the parent’s relationship with the child, and criminal record. Many families will benefit from the unbiased opinion of the court if they are both arguing over who will get the child. The judge will also consider whether the child’s opinion is due to a parent persuading them or how lenient they are with them; this would give less validity to their opinion in the courtroom. The child must have concrete reasons as to why they want to live with one parent versus the other.

Some Children Might Be Afraid to Express Their Opinions in Court

This is because the experience can be intimidating and scary. This is why the court will privately discuss this with the child using a judge or someone appointed by the court like a guardian ad litem. In some states, the child may be able to turn in a written affidavit. In the state of Washington, the judge must consider the child’s opinion if they are the required age. Interviews with the child take place in a judge’s office which are known as in-chambers or in-camera hearings. When this takes place they are usually accompanied by a court reporter and the child’s legal representative. Other times, the child’s lawyer may attend, but either of their parents are not allowed to join in the discussion. The questions the judge may as will vary such as directly asking them who they want to live with or what types of activities they do with the parent. In some states, both of the parents will have to consent to the judge having a meeting with the child. The judge may also factor in questions that the parents want them to ask the child.

This is a very sensitive time for the child because the children are already dealing with the parents separation and have enough to worry about on top of the court process. The child might wonder what things will be like and if they will feel the same in their home when the parents are living separately. Children thrive in healthy, stable environments so when the parents separate then it is very important for the parenting plan to reflect the best outcome in the child’s life.

Courts do not automatically give custody to the mother or father. They also cannot deny your right to custody or visitation because you were never married to the other parent, or if you have a disability, a different lifestyle, religious belief, or sexual orientation. In addition to custody orders, the judge will also make orders for child support. The child support order is separate from the child custody and visitation, so you cannot refuse to let the other parent see your child if they are not paying child support payments. You also cannot refuse to pay child support payments if the other parent is not letting you see them. But if your child support and custody arrangement are related, then the amount of time you spend with them will affect the amount of child support you will get.

Parents are able to make their own agreement when planning for custody and visitation, without using a court order. If both of you are able to agree on this, then it will become binding and enforceable. If you are not able to come to an agreement, then the court cannot enforce it until it becomes a court order. The judge may send you to do a mediation if you cannot agree; if this fails then you will have to appear in front of the judge to make a decision. The judge will then decide your custody and visitation schedule. In some cases, the judge might appoint a child custody evaluator to do a custody evaluation and recommend a parenting plan. A parent can ask for an evaluation, but the request might not be granted, and they may have to pay for it.

After a Judge Makes the Custody and Visitation Order, One or Both of the Parents May Want to Change it

The judge will usually approve this if both parents are in agreement. If one of them does not agree then they can request a change from the court. The parent will then have to complete certain forms to ask for a court hearing and prove to the judge that there is a significant change in circumstances. This is the time when the parents will most likely have to meet with a mediator to talk about why the court order needs to be changed.

Your child might make a decision that is not in your favor. Unfortunately, the decisions of your children cannot always be controlled. If you do not follow the guidelines of your visitation rights, then you may be held in contempt of court. The other parent might have the chance to ask for a change in custody. In that case, the court will make sure to impose the modification, cancellation or even supervision of the visitation. There is usually always a reason the child is requesting a change in the visitation arrangement. Oftentimes, children will need help to adjust to changes in their family situation when their parents split; this can take a toll on them. Sometimes, they might need the help of a professional to cope with the adjustment. You should be mindful and pay attention to how the separation will affect your child.

As parents, your goal is to provide the best care for your child and be able to meet their needs as much as possible. You should always try to find a way to compromise with the other parent if the divorce has gotten in the way of providing for your child’s needs. Your child’s needs should always be the focal point when determining custody and visitation.

Visitation is the Plan for How the Parents Will Share Time with the Children

The parent who has the children less than half the time has visitation rights; this will be determined by finding the children’s best interests. There are several types of visitation orders: Visitation according to a schedule, reasonable visitation, supervised visitation, and no visitation.

Scheduled visitation works best when you have detailed visitation plans that will prevent conflicts and confusion, you will want to write down any dates and times that you are not available. Your visitation schedule will include any holidays, like birthdays, or any special dates for the family.

A reasonable visitation sometimes does not include an exact schedule of when the children will be with each parent. They are generally open-ended and allow both parents to work out days and times that they will have the children. For this to work, you will have to be in agreement and communicate with one another. If there are any disagreements then this will cause issues to arise.

If the parents are set up on supervised visitation then to ensure the child’s safety, you, another adult, or a professional agency will need to be present. Sometimes, if a parent and a child do not have a relationship together then they will be used so the parent and the child can get to know each other before being alone together.

Sometimes, a parent is given no visitation rights if time with the parent would be damaging for the child, such as when the parent is physically or mentally abusive. In this case, it is not in the best interest of the children to have any contact with children.

In Washington, Skilled Child Custody Lawyers Can Help

You have a number of choices to make about how custody should be handled once you’ve made the decision to file for custody of your child. It is essential to speak with a seasoned family law attorney who is experienced in addressing custody disputes. Make an appointment to talk about your choices for requesting custody of your children with the lawyers at the Aberdeen Law Firm.

Related Content: How Much is an Attorney for Child Custody in Washington?

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