Making decisions regarding your children, where they should live, and how they should be cared for is one of the hardest things to do when dealing with a divorce. In Washington State, several factors go into the determination of child custody. The primary factor that determines who gets custody of the children is the best interests of those children.
Those who wish to file for full custody in Washington State should first understand the child custody statutes. Typically, parents are required to present their idea for a parenting plan before the custody hearing. The court will decide to approve or deny the presented plan.
When parents separate, they create a parenting plan that establishes their preferred custody arrangement. The parents can submit a joint plan, or each person can submit their own plan that outlines their preferences for custody. The plan is your proposal for how you want custody to go. It isn’t official until the judge orders it be done that way.
Often, the judge will require a mediation session to attempt to work out a custody agreement between the parties. If you are involved in divorce, separation, guardianship, abuse, or neglect proceedings, a judge may decide custody as part of those cases. In any custody case, the judge must consider the child’s needs as the primary deciding factor.
Each parenting plan is basically a custody schedule that includes the following details:
- The decision-making responsibilities each parent has over the child.
- Where everyone, including the children, will live.
- How holiday and summer vacations will be handled.
- Who transports the child where and when?
- What the expectation is for child support.
- How parents will handle disagreements.
Washington State recognizes both permanent and temporary parenting plans. If you get to court without a parenting plan in place, the judge may issue a temporary parenting plan that is in effect for a specified period. The temporary plan will address the same things as a permanent parenting plan, but it isn’t final.
The permanent parenting plan is the one that governs how custody is handled following the finalization of the divorce. The permanent parenting plan is the final order of the court regarding custody. Once the court orders the permanent parenting plan, the terms must be followed until the children are 18 or emancipated, or the parenting plan gets modified by another court order.
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Joint and Legal Custody in Washington State
One or both parents can be awarded legal or physical custody of children in Washington State. Legal custody is the portion of the custody agreement that determines who makes the daily decisions for the children. That person will be in charge of medical decisions as well as educational choices. If there is an emergency, either parent can make choices when the child is with them regardless of the legal custody of the children.
Consideration for joint physical custody is made using these criteria:
- The current decision-making process for the children—do both parents participate equally, or is one of them more likely to make the decisions?
- How close the parents live to each other and how that distance affects the ability to make decisions for the children.
- Can the parents work together to make decisions for the children, and more importantly, will they?
Child Custody and Visitation Rights
If a parent in Washington State is not granted custody, they are entitled to visits with their children. Their visitation with the children can be limited for the following reasons:
- Abandoning the children for a lengthy period of time.
- Abusing the children physically, emotionally, or sexually.
- A history of domestic violence.
- Any assault, sexual or otherwise, to a child that caused bodily harm.
- Any adult sexual offender conviction.
Modifying Child Custody in Washington State
If you have a child custody agreement in Washington State, you can petition to modify that agreement. In order to petition for a custody modification, you must present a motion to modify your plan and a declaration explaining the facts that lead to the request for modification. The parent who wants to modify the agreement needs to present it to the other parent and the court.
For the modification request to be considered, you must prove two things:
- There has been a substantial change to the circumstances behind the current custody agreement, and
- Modifying custody is in the best interests of the children.
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How to Win Child Custody in Washington State
The short answer for how to win child custody is to prove you’re the better parent. It’s natural to want people to view you as the better parent, but in the eyes of the law, both parents have the right to raise their children. The exception to that is if having contact with the parent will cause the child to be unsafe. Parents who can’t decide tend to leave it up to a judge to decide.
While it’s natural to want the judge to see you as a better parent, that isn’t how family court judges view child custody decisions. It would set the wrong kind of precedent for a judge to label parents as good or bad. Instead, the court must decide what is in the children’s best interests when determining how custody should be handled.
Preparing for a Child Custody Case
It’s important to realize that the Washington State courts usually prefer both parents to be active in their children’s lives. The courts also don’t like to debate parenting styles. If anything in your life hinders the children’s best interests, either intentionally or unintentionally, the courts will have a more critical view of your situation.
When you are preparing for your case, you want to think about how your words sound to the court. You will also want to consider how your actions will look to the court. Make sure that you are doing things that would appear favorable, like making sure visits happen on schedule, allowing phone calls when the children are with you, and showing flexibility to your ex. If you are doing those things and avoiding the things that will be viewed unfavorably by the court, you can go into a child custody case with confidence, knowing you are looking out for the best interests of your child.
If you are filing for full custody, consider what your reasons are for doing so. Is it in the best interests of your child? Or is it a way to try to punish your ex? If you file for custody to avoid dealing with your ex, you aren’t doing it for the right reasons.
Most family courts agree that children need to be raised by both parents. So, joint custody is generally the most widely accepted custody arrangement. If the other parent is a danger to your child or has a pattern of behavior that is consistently unsafe, courts tend to lean toward joint custody.
Full custody makes one person the custodial parent, but the other usually has visitation rights. Unless visits with the non-custodial parent are contrary to the best interests of the child, that person will likely get visitation. The court will determine what visitation rights are appropriate.
Factors in Determining Full Custody
Parents who file for full custody should consider that the court may consider the following factors in determining custody:
- Children’s best interests: A parent who wants full custody should give clear reasons why joint custody isn’t in the child’s best interests. For example, if the other parent has substance abuse issues or leaves the children alone at home for lengthy periods, the courts will take that into consideration.
- Demeanor in court: The way a parent acts in court can be a part of the determining factors in deciding if they should take care of their children. Someone who wants full custody must remain calm and composed without angrily interrupting the proceedings.
- Dress in court: How someone is dressed in court can affect how the judge rules. If someone is dressed overly casually, the judge may think they aren’t taking the proceedings seriously.
- Preparation: The court will also consider how prepared the parents are for the proceedings. Concrete evidence supporting your case and an attorney by your side indicates you are prepared to fight for custody.
The guidelines may seem less than fair, but they are still part of the process. You should be prepared to deal with the guidelines and follow the process toward winning custody of your children.
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When you are fighting for full custody in Washington State, you may have a longer road than you expect. Most family courts lean toward awarding joint custody to the parents. Before you file a petition for joint custody, you should examine your own motives to do. If you are simply trying to avoid dealing with your former spouse, you are looking at the wrong reasons for filing for full custody.
The foremost consideration when determining whether either parent receives full custody is the best interests of the children. However, there are other factors that contribute to a final decision. Rather than navigate a custody hearing on your own, contact a qualified child custody attorney to assist you. Contact the experienced attorneys at the Aberdeen Law Firm to learn what you can do to get custody of your children.
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