How Is Child Custody Determined in Washington?

Posted On September 7, 2022 Children,Divorce,Parenting Plans

Determining child custody is one of the most challenging aspects of divorce. In Washington, a child custody arrangement is referred to as a parenting plan, which dictates where a child will live and with which parent, each parent’s decision-making responsibility over the child, child support, and how future issues will be resolved.

How a Judge Decides Child Custody in Washington

Custody or “parenting time” can be decided in a couple of ways. First, the parents can agree and create their own parenting plan, but a judge must approve it. Alternatively, if the parents cannot agree, a judge will decide custody using the guiding principle of what is in the “best interests of the child.” That involves considering each parent’s ability to:

  • Exercise sound judgment.
  • Maintain a stable and loving relationship with the child.
  • Provide for the child’s basic needs, such as food, clothing, grooming, health care, child care, etc.
  • Involve themselves with the child’s educational needs.
  • Provide financial support.

Other factors a judge may take into account include:

  • The child’s relationships with each parent.
  • Any history of domestic violence.
  • Which parent has taken on the role of the primary caretaker.
  • The child’s relationships with siblings and other adults in their lives.
  • How involved the child is in their community, such as in school, church, and extracurricular activities.
  • The child’s preference, but only if they are old enough to express their reasons in some detail.

The child’s relationship with each parent will carry the most weight in a judge’s decision on custody. However, no single factor will determine the parenting plan, and a father’s rights over a child are the same as a mother’s rights in Washington. Therefore, the parent’s gender will not be taken into account.

Visitation Rights

A residential schedule will be included in the parenting plan, which is a court order stating when the child will be with each parent. The judge will try to make sure visitation is regular and consistent. In other words, when a parent is awarded primary physical custody of a child, known as the “custodial parent,” the other “noncustodial parent” will have regular visitation rights. At a minimum, per Washington child custody guidelines, the noncustodial parent must receive one weeknight visit and every other weekend. Depending on your case, the judge may award more visitation time, but not less.

Modifying Child Custody in Washington

Parents can attempt to modify a parenting plan, but a significant modification can only be granted if there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the original order was entered. Therefore, the parent seeking modification must first file paperwork with the court, including a “Petition for Modification of Adjustment of Child Custody Decree/Parenting Plan.” The petition must specify the changes, how they are in the child’s best interests, and the substantial change that occurred. At a hearing, a judge will review the request and determine if there is adequate cause and whether the modification is appropriate. Minor modifications can also be made to a parenting plan, such as requesting different days of the week or weekends in a month for scheduled visitation. However, there must still be a substantial reason or change in circumstances for a judge to grant them.

Click here to learn more about modifying parenting plans in Washington.

Contact a Bellevue Child Custody Lawyer Today

If you need help with creating a parenting plan in Washington, contact a Bellevue child custody attorney at Twyford Law today. We offer free consultations and passionately fight to get the best results for our clients.


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