Understanding Washington State Child Custody Laws

Washington State child custody laws refers custody and visitation issues as issues that fall under a parenting plan. As such, “child custody” is not used in legal terminology in Washington. Instead, the courts will either approve or create a parenting plan that the parents must follow. Parenting plans establish guidelines for issues like visitation, living arrangements, decision-making, and other matters such as grandparent visitation rights.

It is possible to amend the parenting plan, either through cooperation between parents or via court intervention. When it comes Washington state child custody laws or deciding parental responsibility, the courts must determine what is in the best interest of the child. Current family law holds that the best parenting plans are those which split responsibility down the middle and allows both parents to parent their child. This assumes both parents are willing and able to cooperate.

Unfortunately, certain factors can complicate this. Severe animosity between two parents may result in an inability to come to terms with a reasonable parenting plan. Other things, such as one party attempting to sabotage the other, or differences in availability, living space, financial resources and so on, may sway parental responsibility. Understanding how parenting plans are established, and what courts consider when approving them, can help you better understand your chances in a Washington child custody case.

Factoring in a Child’s Best Interests

Parenting plans are documents that dictate custody, visitation, and who gets to make major decisions on medical, educational, and religious/moral issues, as well as the process for dealing with disagreements later down the road. If you and the other parent agree to the plan, it is likely that a judge will approve it as well. If you cannot agree on a plan, a judge will decide on it after a hearing/trial. It is often recommended to go through a third-party mediator before bringing a parenting plan to a judge. This is so you can try and work out any existing disagreements outside of the courtroom.

Before a judge makes a final decision on any given aspect of the parenting plan, they factor in the child’s best interests. Factors used in determining a child’s best interests include each parent’s ability to maintain a stable home, exercise good judgment, provide necessary financial support, as well as a parent’s ability to be involved with their child’s education and upbringing. Certain factors go against a parent’s ability to care for their child. The Revised Washington Code lists willful abandonment, sexual or emotional abuse, a history of domestic violence, and other factors that could come into play in Washington child custody cases.

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Making Child Custody Modifications

Parenting plans, once approved by a judge, act as a court order. This means that both parents must obey the plan, unless one or the other parent wishes to make a change. Modifying a parenting plan requires either the consent of both parents, or a ruling by a judge. In both cases, a judge must approve any modifications.

Some parents may attempt to go against the rules set by the parenting plan, either by limiting or sabotaging the other parent’s time spent with their child, or by making certain changes without first seeking approval. If this happens and you have proof, you may file for contempt of court. This means you must show in court that the other parent violated the parenting plan approved by the judge.

Seeking Legal Help and Guidance

Whether you are a married couple seeking separation or an unmarried couple with a child and no plans to stay together, child custody issues are often complicated. Proper legal representation may be necessary to protect your interests as a parent, and to ensure that you can raise your child to the best of your abilities.


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