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5 Factors That Affect Child Custody Decisions

5 Factors That Affect Child Custody DecisionsSome of the most hard-fought and emotional battles the family court handles are child custody cases. Parents believe they know what is best for their children.

Unfortunately, they may disagree on various issues. Some parents may be unfit to have custody.

When courts must make child custody decisions, judges consider numerous factors. They also follow the policy set by the Washington State Legislature.

What Is the Policy for Child Custody Decisions in Washington State?

Section 26.09.002 of the Revised Code of Washington explains the state’s policy regarding child custody decisions. Washington child custody laws recognize that parents are responsible for taking care of their children and the importance of the parent-child relationship to the child’s welfare. Therefore, in all custody proceedings, the court must use the best interests of the children as a standard to determine and allocate parental responsibilities.

The best interests of the child are met when a parenting arrangement supports and maintains a child’s health, physical care, stability, and emotional growth. Therefore, judges consider numerous factors. 

Five factors judges consider when making child custody decisions in Washington are:

A Parent’s Ability to Provide for the Child

Providing for a child’s care includes meeting their daily needs. Therefore, a parent must be able and willing to ensure the child is fed, develops good hygiene habits, goes to school, bathes, and eats a healthy diet. The parent must have the ability to understand the child’s needs. If a child has special needs, the parent must be willing and able to meet them.

Providing for a child also includes financial support. Regardless of the relationship between the parents, they are obligated to provide financially for their children. Support is decided based on Washington’s child support guidelines.

The Stability of the Home

Judges consider the environment the child will live in when deciding custody. The stability of the home includes many factors, such as whether it is safe and clean. However, it also includes whether the parents establish regular schedules and routines.

When parents divorce or separate, children may feel anxious and frightened. A stable home environment can help a child navigate the situation easier. Therefore, judges consider whether moving a child would be too disruptive to their school routine, social engagements, and extracurricular activities.

Judges also consider other people living in the home. For example, is the child close to extended family members who live in the home or next door? Does a parent have friends or family members that could pose a danger to the child? These factors also influence custody decisions.

A Parent’s Physical and Mental Health

A person’s physical and mental health could impact their ability to care for and raise their children. The court does not discriminate against a parent for health conditions. However, judges may consider how these conditions impact parenting abilities and adjust custody accordingly.

Evidence of Domestic Violence or Abuse

A history of domestic violence or abuse could result in a parent losing custody. The judge may also order supervised visitation if they believe it is in the child’s best interest.

A parent may use false accusations of abuse and domestic violence to give them an advantage in a custody battle. If you are accused of neglecting or abusing your child or harming your partner, seek legal advice immediately. These allegations, even though they are false, could significantly impact your parental rights.

The Child’s Preferences for Custody Arrangements

Judges may consider a child’s preferences for custody arrangements if the child is old enough and/or mature enough to express reasonable preferences. However, judges will look for signs of parental alienation and manipulation. If a judge believes a parent is actively trying to sway a child’s opinion or turn a child against the other parent, the judge may grant sole custody to the other parent.

Other Factors That Can Affect Child Custody Decisions in Washington State

In addition to the above five factors that affect child custody decisions, other factors a judge may consider include:

  • Each parent’s work schedule
  • A person’s past performance of parenting responsibilities
  • How well a child is integrated into a community and family
  • A child’s developmental, physical, and emotional needs
  • The strength, nature, and stability of the relationship between each parent and the child, including a lack of emotional connection
  • A drug and/or alcohol addiction or a parent’s substantial use of substances that impair their ability to care for a child
  • Instances of willful abandonment or neglect
  • The location of each parent’s home, including the distance between the homes

A judge may appoint a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) to represent the child in a custody case. The GAL is an impartial party looking out for the child’s best interests. The GAL files a report with the court, including their findings and recommendations for custody. The judge is not required to follow the GAL’s recommendations when making child custody decisions.

Visitation Rights and Child Custody in Washington

The court generally favors joint custody whenever possible. Joint legal and physical custody allows both parents to actively participate in their children’s lives. They can be a part of the major decisions that impact their children and the events and activities that are important to them.

However, judges also recognize that splitting physical custody 50/50 could create a hectic schedule for a child. Therefore, judges tend to grant primary physical custody to one parent. This parent is referred to as the custodial parent.

The non-custodial parent is awarded visitation. Parents may work together to create a schedule that works best for their family and promotes regular and consistent visitation with the non-custodial parent.

However, the court will order a visitation schedule if parents disagree. At a minimum, the judge usually grants the non-custodial parent one weeknight visit and visitation every other weekend. However, judges have the discretion to order more or less visitation based on the specific circumstances of the case.

Does the Court Modify Child Custody Arrangements in Washington?

Parents can petition the court for a modification of child custody. However, judges only modify a parenting plan when a party can show a substantial change in circumstances.

If you request a change in custody, you must file a petition with the court. Your petition must explain the proposed changes in the custody agreement, why they are necessary, and how they are in the child’s best interest.

For example, requesting that your weekly night change because your new partner works that night is not a change in circumstances that is in the child’s best interest. However, if your employer requires you to change your work schedule and that change prevents your regularly scheduled visits, the court may grant the modification to ensure ongoing visitation.

Do You Need Help With a Child Custody Matter in Seattle, WA?

Navigating child custody matters can be challenging. A Seattle child custody lawyer can help protect your parental rights and your child’s best interests. If you have questions about custody, call Twyford Law Office for a confidential, free consultation.

Contact the Washington Child Custody Lawyers at Twyford Law Office To Get Legal Assistance Today

To learn more and get the help you deserve, call our child custody lawyers or reach out to Twyford Law Office online by visiting our contact us page. You can also visit our office at your nearest location.

Twyford Law Office – Seattle Office
814 Second Avenue, Suite 515,
Seattle, WA 98104

(206) 590-7085

Twyford Law Office – Spokane Office
430 W Indiana Ave,
Spokane, WA 99205

(509) 327 0777

Twyford Law Office – Bellevue Office
1408 140th Pl NE Suite 400,
Bellevue, WA 98007

(425) 517-3350


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