Everything You Need To Know About Father’s Rights in Washington

March 15, 2022

If you are a father in Washington State, either in Seattle, Bellevue or the metro area, you might feel as though you are fighting a system where the deck is stacked against you.  Fathers, after all, are often considered not to be as fit of parents as mothers when it comes to getting custody of their children.  This is obviously an evolving thought process by the judges who make up the courts in Washington, but the stereotype still persists.

Why Fathers Have Historically Been Assumed to be Lesser Parents

If you are either going through a divorce or trying to gain custody of your children in Washington State, you have likely heard or possibly even experienced the stereotype that goes with being a father.  This is stereotype can be traced back many decades, if not hundreds of years, since it’s been presumed that mothers are the caregivers of children and are thus better suited to be parents than fathers.

In additton, fathers have historically been the earners of the family, thus the idea went that fathers were not at home as much and could not care for their children.  In addition, fathers often had to travel for work, either locally or nationally, and being away from the home made it hard for fathers to take care of their children.

In a post-Covid era, many fathers have been able to alter their work schedules so that they can work from home.  This freedom to either work from home or work around their own personal schedules has placed fathers in a better position than ever to be stay at home fathers, or at least fathers who have the ability to parent from home, perhaps in ways that they were not able to prior to Covid.

Making this argument to the judge in a custody case can be crucial in getting a judge to understand that the father will not be an absentee parent who is simply not able or willing to be at the child’s home to rear them.

What Fathers Can Do to Help Their Chances for Custody

The biggest thing you can do as a father to show the court you take your role as a father seriously is gather evidence and witnesses who will support you.  For example, if your best friend, co-worker, or neighbor know you well and know how you have historically been as a father to your children, then it is important to confirm that they are willing to testify on your behalf in court in the event that they are called on.

Second, if you have evidence in the form of pictures, movies, or your name in connection with school activities or recreational activities, this will also help in showing the court that you are serious about being a father.  Social media posts can be tricky in that sometimes they can come back to haunt you if they are not positive, but if they positive portrayals of you as a father and caretake of your children, then they should be submitted as evidence.

Finally, if there are school reports or extra circular activities that reflect your role as a father in your child’s life, then those should also be submitted as evidence of your continued role as a father figure in your child’s life.

What the Courts Consider When Deciding Custody

You might be wondering what the courts consider when evaluation whether to award custody to the mother or the father.  The courts do not look at one single factor or one single thing in determining who should be awarded custody of your child.  Rather, there are many factors that the court will consider.  Among them are:

  • Who has been the primary care taker of the child
  • Who has the better home environment for the child
  • Who has the superior financial situation and prospects
  • Who has the time to care for the child
  • Who has provided the more stable home for the child historically and can into the future
  • Which parent has custody of the child’s siblings and whether the child is close to the sibling

All of these factors go into determining whether the child will be placed with the father or the mother.  Like it was previously mentioned, having credible witnesses who have observed you as a father can go a long way in convincing the judge that the father is the better parent.  Of course the father himself will also play a big role in determining whether he will be awarded custody.  The credibility of the father on the witness stand, in the event that the case goes to trial, will be crucial in deciding whether the court awards custody of the child or children to the father.

Therefore, if your case is going to trial, it’s very important that a father is properly prepared to testify so that he properly articulates the reasons why he is the better parent for his child or children.

The Financial Advantages of Being the Custodial Parent

The biggest financial advantage to being awarded the custodial parent over a child are that you are allowed to receive child support, if the financial declarations and other supporting documents show that you are in need of support.

In addition, you are also allowed to receive a tax credit if you, the father, are awarded custody of the child or children.  These two things can really help a father financially who may suddenly find himself having to juggle the competing demands of work, child care, and all of the expenses that come along with raising a child.

The Procedural Steps to Gain Custody of a Child in Washington State

There are some important procedural steps you have to take in order to get custody of your child.   First, you must file the appropriate documents with the court.  This includes a petition and a parenting plan.  The parenting plan is the document that lays out where and when visitation will take place.  This is a very detailed document and the custody arrangements that are laid out in the document make the room for argument very small since it covers nearly every corner of the visitation process.  Once these documents are completed, you also have to complete financial documents.  This includes a financial declaration where you state your income and various expenses.

This document will figure into how much you pay in child support.  Two other documents are also required to determine this.  The second document that you have to complete is a child support financial worksheet.  This is a worksheet that your ex also has to complete since it will lay out how much money you both make, both as a gross amount and a net amount.  This document is very thorough as well.  The third document you have to complete is simple: it’s just a cover sheet for you to attach your financial documentation of proof to.  For example, you have to prove the income you are making by providing some of the following documents:

  • Tax returns
  • Wage statements, such as W2’s
  • Bank statements
  • Credit card statements

How Long Will It Take to Get Custody if You’re a Father?

If you are a father in Washington State trying to get custody of your children, then you might be wondering how long it will take to obtain custody of your child or children.  The answer is that it depends on a couple of important factors.  Here are the main factors to consider:

  1. If you are filing for divorce while you’re trying to obtain custody. This is a big factor since, even in the best case scenario, you will have to wait 90 days for your divorce to become final, even if your spouse agrees to the terms that you proposed.
  2. However, if your spouse did not agree to the terms you proposed, then your case will proceed to a trial. The judge, then, will be the one to decide whether you are awarded full, partial, or no custody of your children.  How long does it take to get in front of a judge and actually have your trial? That largely depends on which county you are in, but for the most part it takes 9-12 months to have a trial in this state.  Sometimes it can be pushed back even longer if there are complicated issues that need sorting out, such as if the judge orders that Child Protective Services (CPS) gets involved, or if a Guardian Ad Litem (GL) is ordered to investigate your case by interviewing people.
  3. So best case scenario, from a timeline perspective, you can be awarded custody in 90 days or it could it be up to a year or even more, depending on whether your spouse agrees to custody or not, and depending on whether your case actually goes all the way to a trial.

The biggest delay, normally, is just the court system itself and how backed up it is.  The easiest and best way to get custody of child the fastest is to have your spouse agree, or your ex agree, that you should get custody.

There is another way for you to get temporary custody, especially if it’s an emergency, and that’s by doing what is called a temporary orders hearing.  By doing this, you must give the judge and your ex notice, normally two weeks, that you want to have a court hearing for the judge to address whether you should be awarded partial or full custody pending the outcome of your trial, which might be 9 months out.  So you will submit materials ahead of time, as will your ex, and the judge will consider everything, allow you or your lawyer to make a brief argument, and then the judge will issue a temporary order.

This order will go into effect immediately and be the order that says what your custody looks like until you either settle it out of court with your spouse or actually go to court and have the judge make a final determination.  Be aware that unless something drastic changes between the time you get your temporary order and the trial, then it is very likely that the judge will just follow the temporary order by adopting it

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