When a divorcing couple shares children, the custody agreement is their top priority. If you’re feeling nervous and overwhelmed at the prospect of developing a custody agreement with your soon-to-be former spouse, you’re not alone. Read on for more information on how child custody works in Washington, and how a child custody lawyer can guide your family through this transition.

Who Gets Custody of a Child?

Historically, courts assumed that mothers should have custody of their children after divorce. The courts today, however, understand that fathers are just as important in their children’s lives.

Furthermore, because the Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality in 2015, custody agreements can apply to families with two fathers or two mothers, all of whom are entitled to relationships with their children.

If one parent obtains custody, the other is generally entitled to visitation or residential time, depending on the kids’ ages and particular circumstances. A general rule of thumb is the non-custodial parent will have the child(ren) every other weekend and for a midweek overnight every week.

If you’ve lived in separate households for quite a while without a parenting plan, the court may look at your existing schedule before establishing one.

How to Get Child Custody

In general, the court aims for child custody agreements that prioritize the child’s wellbeing and healthy relationship with both parents.

Joint custody is ideal when both adults demonstrate shared responsibility and cooperation, and live relatively close to one another. However, sometimes one parent secures primary custody for the sake of the child(ren).

Because children’s wellbeing comes first, the courts will consider the following:

  • Each parent’s stability as an individual and in terms of caring for children
  • Quality of existing relationship with the children (and other siblings).
  • Which parent historically took on most of the daily childcare responsibilities.
  • Children’s emotional needs and development.
  • Children’s relationship with siblings and other significant adults, and involvement with their physical surroundings, school, and other activities.
  • Existing custody agreements.
  • School and employment schedules.
  • Wishes of the parents and kids.

An experienced child custody lawyer will help you to address these items in writing, focusing on your stability and capability. This is your starting point for convincing the court that you should have primary custody of your child(ren).

Even with the best demonstration of your ability to parent, securing the best child custody agreement is difficult, especially in a contested divorce. Working with an experienced child custody lawyer means you’ll have someone on your team who understands the law and how to best present your case to the court.

How to Get Full Child Custody

If one parent believes the other compromises their child’s health and safety, they may seek permanent or temporary full custody. If you can’t get full custody, a child custody attorney may be able to help you limit the other parents’ access.

Courts don’t want to restrict parents’ time with children, as it infringes on the parent-child relationship and bond. But they also don’t want to give custody to unfit parents. Courts may grant visitation rights without custody, though in extreme cases, even visitation can be revoked or supervised.

To get full child custody, you and your child custody lawyer must prove the other parent is unfit. Reasons the court may agree, or at least limit visitation, include:

  • Child abuse (emotional, physical, sexual).
  • Drug abuse.
  • Criminal history.
  • History of acts of domestic violence.
  • Willful abandonment.
  • Mental health.
  • Unsafe environment.

Don’t charge your spouse with being unfit unless you can prove it. Judges are not impressed with unfounded allegations; it can do more harm than good for your case.

Custody Agreement Modification

Courts won’t generally modify custody agreements unless the petitioning parent can prove adequate cause. If circumstances with the nonmoving parent have changed in a way that risks the child’s best interests, a child custody attorney may be able to help change custody or visitation arrangements.

How to Change a Child Visitation Schedule

The four legal standards for changing a parenting plan are:

  1. The parents agree to the modification;
  2. The child(ren) has/have been integrated into the family of the requesting parent with the consent of the other parent in substantial deviation from the parenting plan;
  3. The child(ren)’s present environment is detrimental to the child(ren)’s physical, mental, or emotional health, and the harm likely to be caused by a change of environment is outweighed by the advantage of a change to the child(ren); or
  4. The court has found the nonmoving parent in contempt of court at least twice within three years because the parent failed to comply with the residential time provisions in the court-ordered parenting plan, or the parent has been convicted of custodial interference in the first or second degree.

Because filing for modification is no easy feat and the burden of proof is on the petitioning party, the petitioning party should have all facts and supportive evidence before the first hearing. In addition, you should seek the help of a child custody lawyer who has handled this kind of case before and knows how to guide you with knowledge, compassion, and respect.

If you are served with a modification, respond in a timely manner and have all of your refutable facts ready to go, so the modification is more likely to be dismissed at the first hearing.

Minor Guardianships (Non-Paternal Custody Actions)

Washington State’s guardianship law is now known as the Uniform Guardianship Act (UGA). Under this law, the court may appoint a guardian for a minor if the court finds the appointment is in the minor’s best interest, and at least one of the following is true:

  • Both parents consent, after being fully informed of the nature and consequences of guardianship;
  • All parental rights have been terminated; or
  • The court finds by clear and convincing evidence the parents are unwilling or unable to exercise their parenting functions.

In determining whether the parents are prepared to exercise their parenting functions, the court will weigh their ability to provide:

  • A loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship.
  • For daily needs, such as food, clothes, grooming, supervision, health care, and day care.
  • Developmentally appropriate activities.
  • Adequate education.
  • Assistance in developing and maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships.
  • Appropriate judgment regarding welfare of the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances.
  • Financial support.

Contact Us and Speak with an Expert Child Custody Lawyer

At Envision Family Law, we understand how much you care about your children and want to be present in their lives. Working with our child custody attorneys is one of the best things you can do to ensure their well-being.

We will assess whether you have a basis to petition the court for full custody or a minor guardianship. We can also help determine the best course of action to defend against this type of petition.

To speak with an Envision Family Law child custody lawyer, call or text today at (888) 211-7814, or use the easy contact form on our website. We’ll get you set up with an in-person or virtual consultation right away.

Jonathan Moffitt did a tremendous job on my extremely complicated, long-winded case ...Read More


Maria Josephine

I paid for 6 different consultations and spoke to over 10 attorneys all through the PNW ...Read More


Jamie Ellertsen