Child custody is the top priority of any parent. No matter what type of case you may have: divorce, unmarried parents or LGBTQ relationship, getting the best child custody lawyer in Washington State should be on top of your priorities. Our child custody attorneys at Envision Family Law will be there to make sure your best interests and priorities are taken care of. Here’s what our clients say.
Filing a Child Custody Case
There are many ways in which a case for child custody is filed. This section is a general overview that applies to all types of cases.
How to get child custody?
Whether you are the mother or father, the court will use the following guidelines to determine custody:
The most important factor: each parent’s relative strength, nature, and stability of the relationship with your child(ren), including which parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of your child(ren).
- Any agreements between the parents.
- Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting functions.
- Your child(ren)’s emotional needs and development.
- Your child(ren)’s relationship with siblings and other significant adults, and involvement in his or her physical surroundings, school, and other activities.
- Wishes of the parents and the child(ren).
- Each parent’s employment schedule.
For each item in the above list, develop a written explanation of how that item applies to you. Again, the court places the most weight on the first factor. This explanation can be used as a starting point in developing reasons to convince the court that you should be awarded primary custody of your child(ren). Note: it is possible to obtain joint custody if both parents agree or the parents have a shared history of cooperation and shared in the performance of parenting functions and live in reasonable proximity to one another.
Who gets custody of a child?
If one parent obtains custody, the other parent is generally entitled to visitation or residential time. The amount of visitation varies depending on the age of the child(ren) and the particular circumstances. However, a general rule of thumb is the non-custodial parent will have the child(ren) every other weekend from Friday evening until Sunday evening and have the child(ren) for a midweek overnight every week. (1)
Additionally, if you have been living in separate households for quite a while without a parenting plan in place, the Court may look at what the visitation schedule has been prior to establishing a parenting plan. There are pros and cons to this, depending on each person’s situation. For additional information on this topic, please check out What is a parenting plan?.
How to get full custody?
To get full custody of your child you must show and prove that the child faces immense danger otherwise. In the past, it was presumed by the U.S. legal system that children belonged with their mothers. In the current state of law, the legal system wants the best interest of the child. Even if you’re not able to get full custody of your child our child custody lawyers may be able to help you limit visitation rights to the other parent.
In certain circumstances, a parent may request that the court substantially limit the other parent’s visitation with the children, or request that the other parent has no visitation at all. This request can be for permanent or temporary limitations that are lifted once treatment recommendations or steps outlined by the Court are completed. The parent must be deemed an unfit parent and the other parent must be able to prove it to the Court. Below are some of the reasons a Court may limit residential time:
- Child abuse (emotional, physical, sexual)
- Drug abuse
- Criminal history
- History of acts of domestic violence
- Willful abandonment
- Mental health
- Unsafe environment
In general, the Courts do not particularly like to restrict a parent’s visitation unless it is necessary to protect the child(ren) because it infringes on the parent-child relationship and bond. Therefore, the Court often orders supervised visitation as a limitation so that children are safe, but can continue contact with the parent. A supervisor can be an agreed third party or a paid professional.
There are many avenues in which to propose limitations. Always consult with a lawyer on the best route, as you want to ensure children are safe, but that the restrictions are appropriate.
In general, 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.
Parenting plans finalized by the Court are meant to be permanent. Therefore, modifying a parenting plan in the future can be difficult. The parent requesting modification must first be able to prove there is “adequate cause” to proceed with their request. The Court will not modify a parenting plan unless it finds a substantial change has occurred in the circumstances of the child(ren) or the nonmoving party and that the modification is in the best interest of the child and is necessary.
How to change a child visitation schedule?
The following are the four legal standards in which to change a parenting plan:
The parents agree to the modification;
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;
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
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 will generally want to ensure they have all facts and supportive evidence before the first hearing. You want to make sure your petition/request is ironclad, so to speak, with the essential key facts.
In the event you are served with a modification, you will want to respond in a timely manner and have all of your refutable facts ready to go so the modification is dismissed at the first hearing.
(formerly known as non-paternal custody actions)
Washington State’s guardianship law has been transformed into what is now known as the Uniform Guardianship Act (UGA). Effective January 1, 2021, the UGA repealed RCW 26.10 (non-paternal custody law) and replaced this law with RCW 11.130. RCW 11.130 implements new provisions related to guardianships or protective arrangements for minors.
Under the new 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:
- 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 as defined by RCW 26.09.004.
In determining whether or not the parents are unwilling or unable to exercise their parenting functions, the court will weigh the parents’ ability to perform the following:
- Maintaining a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child;
- Attending to the daily needs of the child, such as feeding, clothing, physical care and grooming, supervision, health care, and day care, and engaging in other activities which are appropriate to the developmental level of the child and that are within the social and economic circumstances of the particular family;
- Attending to adequate education for the child, including remedial or other education essential to the best interests of the child;
- Assisting the child in developing and maintaining appropriate interpersonal relationships;
- Exercising appropriate judgment regarding the child’s welfare, consistent with the child’s developmental level and the family’s social and economic circumstances; and
- Providing for the financial support of the child.
Minor guardianship cases require the court to appoint a Guardian ad Litem who will investigate the contested issues in your case and file a report to the court regarding his/her ultimate recommendations. Given the strong parental rights afforded to parents under the constitution, the court will thoroughly scrutinize the facts in your case while weighing the rights of parents and best interests of minors.
This decision is often difficult, but necessary in cases when the welfare of a minor is in peril. Do not hesitate to contact our office and consult with one of our highly experienced attorneys. We will assess whether you have a basis to petition the court for a minor guardianship or the best course of action to defend against this type of petition. We are ready to help, please contact us today for a case evaluation.