Getting divorced isn’t an easy decision in Washington, especially when you have children. Who will get Child Custody in Washington? Where will the children go to school? Who gets to make important decisions like health care?
Making these decisions can be the hardest part of getting a divorce. In Washington State, parents can make custody decisions themselves or wait for a judge to decide custody and other parenting matters at trial. The judge will base the decision on the child’s best interests in terms of physical, emotional, and intellectual needs.
Child Custody in Washington State: An Overview
Parents need to establish a custody arrangement when they separate or divorce. In Washington State, this arrangement is called a parenting plan. Parents can submit their single parenting plan jointly, or they can choose to submit individual plans.
Think of the plan as a proposal for how you’d like custody to be moving forward. The plan doesn’t become binding until a judge agrees to it and makes it a court order.
Often, a judge will order parents to attend mediation to work out a parenting agreement. If the judge decides custody and creates a parenting plan, the judge will base the decision on the needs of the child or children involved. Consideration will be given to which parent can best care for the child as well as the emotional stability provided in each household.
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What Is A Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan is a custody schedule that the parents ideally set up before going to trial in a divorce proceeding. When you create your parenting plan, you should include the following information for it to be considered:
- Who will make which decisions for the children?
- Which residence will the children call home most of the time, and how much time will they be with each of the parents?
- How will the holidays and school vacations be handled, including how to manage summer vacations?
- How will the child get to and from visits with each parent?
- Who is responsible for paying child support, and how much are they responsible for paying? Include who will pay for extra-curricular activities and other fees in this section.
- How will you settle issues that arise between the two of you—whether it relates to the children or not?
If the spouses are unable to create a permanent parenting plan, the judge will create a temporary parenting plan while the case is still being settled. The temporary plan will include decision-making responsibilities and visitation schedules. It will be in place until a permanent plan can be created.
When the court finalizes the custody order, the parenting plan becomes permanent. The goal of a permanent parenting plan is to ensure that the children’s needs are met as effectively as possible. The choice the parents have is whether they create the plan or the judge does.
When you create your parenting plan, it’s based on the needs of the child at the moment. The same is true of any custody decisions a judge makes. They are based on the needs of the child at that time. Typically, as children get older, their needs will differ from what they were when they were preschoolers or even small school-aged children.
Either parent can file for a modification of custody in Washington State. When a request is made for a custody modification, the request must be served both to the court and the other parent. A judge requires evidence of a material change in circumstances before hearing a case for custody modification. The petitioner must prove that the change is in the children’s best interests.
Children over the age of 12 can have their wishes heard by the judge. However, a child’s wishes alone aren’t enough to create a change of custody. The judge in the case must rule that the change is in the child’s best interests.
Some extenuating circumstances can cause the court to weigh a child’s wishes more heavily. One of those is when there is an abusive live-in boyfriend or girlfriend in the household. Another is the custodial parent refusing to allow the non-custodial parent access to the children.
A child acting in anger and requesting to move is not enough to change the custody of the child. However, if the child makes the request because someone in the house is abusing them, and the evidence backs their claim, a judge will consider the evidence. Whatever the judge decides regarding custody, the child’s best interests are always the primary focus.
Can You Appeal A Custody Order in Washington State?
If you think the court made a mistake when a custody order was made, you have a right to appeal the decision. You must follow specific guidelines for appealing a custody decision.
- Only appeal the permanent order. The order isn’t permanent until the judge has made a ruling on every issue of custody that was brought forward in court.
- Remember, a temporary order can change. Be patient. You can’t appeal a temporary order.
- Hire a qualified Washington State custody attorney. The attorney can help you get your paperwork in order for your appeal.
- Submit your appeal to the court. The judge will review all of your paperwork as well as the original hearing transcripts. The judge then decides whether to grant your appeal petition or uphold the previous decision.
- You can’t provide new testimony to the appellate court. The decision will be made based on the original trial transcripts. Your attorney will submit a brief that details any changes that have occurred since the original decision was made.
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What Does It Cost to File for Child Custody in Washington state?
The cost of filing for custody depends on a couple of factors. One is where you file your petition. If you filed in the same county where you filed your parenting plan, the cost is one thing. If you filed in a different county, or if you have a new case number, the cost is another amount.
When you file in the same county where you filed your parenting plan, your cost is usually approximately $56. However, when you file in a different county or with a new case number, the fee can be between $200 and $300, with the average being approximately $260.
When you file, you will be responsible for copying costs in addition to the filing fee. You might also have to pay a fee for document service to the other party involved. Don’t forget; you will also have attorney’s fees to pay.
What If I Can’t Afford the Fee?
If you fall into a low-income bracket, there may be options to help you with the cost of legal fees. One available option is requesting the court waive the filing fees for your case. There are forms that you can complete to request an adjusted court fee.
What Should I Do to Begin the Process of Filing for Child Custody in Washington?
With any legal matter, it’s advisable to contact a qualified attorney who specializes in the matter you wish to bring before the court. In this case, an attorney who specializes in family law with expertise in child custody matters is your best choice. It would be best if you chose someone you are comfortable opening up to for the best outcome.
It is essential that you are honest with your attorney from the beginning regarding the details of your case. Whether you are filing for initial custody or you are requesting a modification to a current custody agreement, you want someone you feel you can trust. Honestly relaying information to your attorney can save you headaches and hassle in the long run.
When you consult with your attorney, be prepared with detailed information, as well as the details of what you would like in your parenting plan. Being as detailed as possible helps with the completion of forms and the writing of briefs. Remember, a good parenting plan includes information regarding residence, decision-making, transportation, vacations, holidays, child support, childcare, and conflict resolution.
The best-case scenario is if you and the other parent agree with how the parenting plan should be written. In that case, you can work together with your attorney to create a joint submission. However, if you aren’t in agreement, you can still create your individual plans and submit them separately.
Remember to always put the child’s best interest first. Regardless of the relationship between the parents, the judge will look at the child’s best interest as the most important factor in deciding custody. Your parenting plan should be as detailed as possible about how it serves the best interests of your child.
Be prepared to provide details of why you think you are the best choice for your child’s custodial parent. This isn’t about bashing the other parent. This is about presenting facts and evidence of what is in the child’s best interests.
Experienced Child Custody Attorneys Can Help in Washington
When you’ve decided to file for custody of your child, you have several decisions to make regarding how custody should be handled. It’s best to consult with a qualified family law attorney who knows the ins and outs of handling custody cases. Contact the attorneys at the Aberdeen Law Firm to discuss your options for filing for custody of your children.
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