When parents separate, they must establish a child custody arrangement to reflect their parenting decisions. Some may be able to work out a plan among themselves or with the help of a mediator. However, many parents require intervention from the court.

Whether you’re going through a divorce or legal separation, you need to establish a legally binding custody arrangement that’s in your child’s best interest.

So, how is child custody determined in Washington? We’ll explain the custody options in the State of Washington, and answer a few frequently-asked questions about custody hearings:

  • Custody Options in Washington
  • Custody Determination FAQs

Custody Options in Washington

In the State of Washington, a child custody arrangement is referred to as a parenting plan. Custody arrangements look different depending on the child’s needs and both parties’ parenting abilities.

In most cases, the court awards both parents shared custody, which means they will share parenting responsibilities (to a certain degree). Keep in mind that shared custody does not mean equal custody. In shared custody arrangements, it is possible for a child to have one parent whom they spend more time with.

When a parent is granted primary custody, the other parent can be granted visitation rights. However, extreme circumstances can give the court reason to forbid contact with one or both parents.

Factors the Washington State Court Will Consider

Parents often seek a straightforward answer to the question, “How is child custody determined?” But the truth is, the answer is anything but simple.

Every custody issue brought to the court will be presented to a family law judge, who will decide on a custody arrangement. To make this determination, the judge will consider multiple factors, including:

  • The child’s relationship with each parent
  • The child’s relationship with siblings or other individuals in each parent’s household
  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child
  • The physical, emotional, and mental health of each parent
  • The child’s involvement in their present community
  • The child’s primary caretaker in the past

When the courts evaluate each parent’s ability to care for their child, the courts will consider parents’ employment schedules, residential location, general lifestyle, home stability, and any history of domestic violence or abuse. The court also considers the child’s wishes regarding the parenting plan, given the judge feels the child is mature enough to voice a preference.

Understanding how child custody is determined in Washington can help you navigate the process, but remember that each case is unique. If you’re in the midst of a divorce involving children, a separation from your child’s biological parent, or a modification of an existing parenting plan, you must discuss your situation with an experienced attorney for tailored legal guidance.

Custody Determination FAQs

What constitutes an unfit parent in Washington State?

In Washington, a parent can be deemed unfit for a variety of reasons. In general legal terms, an unfit parent is someone who fails to conduct themselves in a way that provides support, care, and guidance to a child.

Other factors that can make someone an unfit parent in the state of Washington include:

  • Poor conflict resolution skills when interacting with the other parent
  • A lack of involvement in childcare tasks
  • A mental illness
  • Notable social issues

Being termed an unfit parent is different than receiving a smaller percentage of a custody agreement. Unfit parents are stripped of custody and, in extreme cases, may be barred from contact with their child.

Can a father get 50/50 custody in Washington?

In Washington, a father can receive 50/50 custody. Washington prioritizes the needs of the child, and there are many scenarios in which evenly shared custody works best for the child.

Washington does not have a specific law that gives a 50/50 custody presumption. However, the state does promote joint custody in many cases. Because the state makes custody rulings based on the wellbeing of the child, it tends to preserve the status quo as much as possible. This does not always lead to a court-ordered 50/50 parenting plan, but does make it a common outcome.

Ultimately, there is no law that prevents a father in Washington from receiving equal custody of their child. Provided the father has a healthy relationship with the child, and the court can determine that the needs of the child will be met, a 50/50 custody arrangement is possible.

At what age can a child decide custody in Washington state?

In some states, a child over a certain age can voice their preference for one parent during a custody hearing. But, it’s very rare for a state to allow a child to choose a parent, and have that choice be legally binding; such is the case in Washington.

How is child custody determined in cases with younger children? In Washington, a child can only choose which parent to live with if the child is 18, a legal adult. If the child is below the age of 18, they are considered a minor, and the state does not recognize them as being able to make a custody decision.

While a child in Washington can’t choose the parent they live with, they can influence the decision. Judges will often hold an in-chambers meeting with the child as part of the custody hearing.

These in-chambers sessions are closed to both parents to ensure that the child speaks freely. The only guaranteed attendees of these sessions are the judge, the child, and a court reporter. In some cases, a judge may allow attorneys to attend the interview as well. If attorneys are not allowed to participate, they will receive a transcript of the interview.

How is Child Custody Determined? Get Informed. Contact Envision Law Today

At Envision Law, we know how important it is for you to understand how child custody is determined in your state. Our attorneys will guide you through this process, helping you better comprehend the current situation while aiming to prove your ability to be a successful parent.

By having dependable legal representation from Washington’s top divorce and family law firm, you’ll have the best chance at preserving a healthy relationship with your child. For more information about how we can help, contact Envision Law today!