One of the most challenging decisions to make regarding divorce is how child custody will be handled. As parents, we want the best for our children. Unfortunately, we don’t always agree with the other parent and their parenting plan as to what that is.
In Washington, parents can create a plan for custody on their own or let the judge decide how custody will work when they go to trial. Parents can either submit a joint plan, or they can each submit individual plans that tell the judge what they would prefer for a custody arrangement. This plan the parents create is called a parenting plan.
The proposal parents make to the judge, even if it’s a joint proposal, doesn’t become official unless the judge creates an order incorporating it. Often a judge will require mediation for the parents to attempt to work out a parenting plan that works for everyone involved. When the judge creates a custody order, the child’s needs are the primary concern. You must first understand the steps for a custody ruling before discussing whether it can be appealed.
The Parenting Plan
When creating a parenting plan in Washington, you create a custody schedule. The plan should include the following things:
- Which parent will make what decisions
- Where will the child live, including how much time will be spent with each parent
- Holiday and summer vacation plans
- Who is responsible for transporting the child to and from visits
- Who will pay child support to whom and how much
- How disputes between the parents will be resolved
In Washington, if you don’t create a permanent parenting plan, a judge will create a temporary one while everything else within your case is being settled. The temporary plan will be set for a limited time while a permanent plan is being devised. The temporary plan will determine how decisions will be made and how visits will be handled.
The permanent parenting plan is the finalized custody order of the court. The choice is to either agree to a plan or leave it up to the judge to create the plan. Either way, the goal is to create a plan that provides for your children’s needs both now and in the future.
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How Is Custody Decided in Washington?
When the judge decides on the permanent parenting plan, they must decide if shared custody is appropriate. To do that, they consider the following things:
- How well the parents work together
- How much each parent participates in decision-making
- How close the parents live to each other
- How committed the parents are to working with each other.
The judge will also consider
- The kind of relationship the child has with each parent—is it strong and stable?
- The amount each parent spends on daily care-taking activities
- The emotional and developmental needs of the child
- The parents’ mental health
- The way the child acts at home, school, and in the community—do they seem comfortable?
- The relationship of the child with siblings and other family members
- The preference of the child—if the child is old enough and mature enough to express a preference
- The history of domestic violence in the parental relationship
- The parents’ wishes regarding custody
- The work schedule for each parent
- The factors that the parties want to be considered
In Washington, no single factor is the sole determinant in a custody case, but the most weight is given to the relationship between the child and the parents. Decisions aren’t based on the parent’s gender, but if one parent takes more of a role in the parenting, that can impact the custody decision.
Modification of Custody in Washington
Custody decisions are made based on the circumstances at play at the time of the decision. Those circumstances are likely to change over time. As children get older, their needs change.
Either parent has the right to file a request to modify the custody agreement. When a parent seeks a custody modification, they must serve both the other party and the court with the petition. For a judge to hear the case, the petitioner must provide evidence that a material change has occurred in the circumstances governing the case. They must prove that it is in the child’s best interests to modify the custody agreement.
A child requesting a change is not enough to grant one. In Washington, if a child is at least 12 years old, the judge will consider what they want in a custody hearing. However, the judge will not grant the request based solely on the child’s wishes. The change must be in the child’s best interests.
A few examples of times when the child’s best interests meet their wishes include when there is a live-in boyfriend or girlfriend who is abusive to the other people in the household. If the custodial parent keeps the non-custodial parent from seeing the child, that could make a difference in the custody dispute.
Regardless of how the judge decides custody, the main factor is the child’s best interests. Simply because Little Timmy got mad and said he wanted to go live with Dad isn’t enough evidence to make that happen. However, if Little Timmy claims that Mom’s new live-in boyfriend slaps him around routinely, and it can be shown that Little Timmy has a basis for his claim, the judge will consider that.
Appealing A Custody Order
Suppose you feel the court made a mistake when they made the custody order. As a parent, you have a right to appeal the court’s decision regarding custody if you disagree with the scheduled arrangement. There are specified rules for appealing custody agreements. Here are some tips for the best course of action for appealing a custody ruling.
Know the Law
Generally, an order isn’t eligible for appeal unless it is the final, complete order. This means you will have to be patient if you are currently under a temporary order because the permanent order might change.
A final order is one in which all hearings have been had, and the judge has made a ruling on the merits of the case. You’ve already been to court, and the judge ruled based on the evidence presented in court. For the order to be complete, which is the second part of the requirement, the judge must have ruled on every issue of custody that was expressed between the two parties.
What Can’t Be Appealed in Parenting Plan
Sometimes the court will issue a temporary order while the case is being heard. If a temporary order has been issued, it could grant custody temporarily to one of the involved parties, or the court could choose to grant temporary custody to a third party. If the court has issued a temporary custody order, that can’t be appealed.
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How to Appeal the Order
If your custody arrangement is final and complete, but you still find it unacceptable, your first step is to work with a family lawyer in Washington. Your lawyer can help you put together the necessary briefs for asking for an appeal. Your brief must include the reasons you are requesting an appeal and show any inconsistencies in the original ruling.
Once you have completed your brief, you submit it to the court. The judge reviews your paperwork along with the original transcripts from the previous hearing. The judge decides whether to uphold the previous custody ruling or overturn it.
Limits to Your Appeal
Before you begin the appeals process, you should know that there are limits to what can be included in your appeal. First, the appellate court will use the same criteria to decide the issue as the lower court did. In other words, the determining factor will be your child’s best interests.
Additionally, the appellate court doesn’t allow new testimony. No new witnesses will be heard in the case either. The appellate court’s decision will be made based on the original hearing transcripts.
Along with the transcripts, your attorney will submit an appellate brief. The appellate brief should detail what, if any, circumstances have changed since the original hearing. However, you will typically not be allowed to speak directly to the appellate court judge. You also aren’t typically allowed to be present while they consider your appeal.
Hiring a Bellevue Child Custody Attorney to Help You and Your Family
When a permanent parenting plan has been implemented, you have some recourse if you disagree with the court’s decision. One option you have is to request a modification of the plan. To do that, you must establish that circumstances have changed and the current plan is no longer in the child’s best interests. Another option is to appeal the decision of the family law judge.
Before you create an appeal, remember that you won’t be able to present new witnesses. The appellate court will use the same criteria as the original court to decide the matter. The standard the appellate court follows is the same as well; the decision should reflect the child’s best interests.
If you are dissatisfied with the parenting plan that is in place in your case, contact a child custody lawyer in Washington to discuss your options. The attorneys at the Aberdeen Law Firm can help you determine your best course of action, and then they can guide you as you take the next steps.
Related Content: How to Write a Parenting Plan in Washington State