Washington State Child Custody Laws

Posted On July 1, 2021 Custody

When making decisions regarding what is best for your children and your family, it is important to have a clear understanding of Washington State’s child custody laws. Read on to learn the child custody laws in Washington and if you have any additional questions, speak with a qualified Spokane child custody lawyer

Parenting Plans

Under Washington State law, a child custody arrangement is commonly referred to as a “parenting plan.” A parenting plan is a legal document that outlines how you and your former spouse will care for your children once the divorce is final. The family court generally requires one as part of the divorce process, a separation, or in an abuse, neglect, or guardianship case. 

A joint plan can be created by the parents together, or each parent can submit their own. The parenting plan should include preferences on every major aspect of a child’s life, including: 

  • Where the child will live and with which parent;
  • How the parents will make decisions regarding the child; and
  • How the divorcing parents will resolve future issues.

If the parents cannot agree on the terms, the court will often require them to attend mediation. However, even if the parents can reach an agreement, a parenting plan will only become official or enforceable once a judge reviews it and makes it a court order. 

Visitation Rights

The parenting plan will detail each parent’s visitation rights, which the court tries to make sure is regular and consistent. When a parent is awarded primary physical custody of a child (custodial parent), the other (noncustodial) parent will have regular visitation rights under Washington’s child custody guidelines. At a minimum, the noncustodial parent must receive one weeknight visit and every other weekend. The judge may award more visitation time if the case warrants it, but not less. 

How a Judge Decides Child Custody in Washington

Child custody laws in Washington State are designed with the child’s best interests as the main priority. It is the guiding principle for judges to base their decisions on when approving or making changes to a parenting plan. The judge will typically consider each parent’s ability to: 

  • Maintain a loving and stable relationship with the child.
  • Exercise good judgment.
  • Provide for the child’s basic needs. 
  • Involve themselves with the child’s educational needs. 
  • Provide financial support. 

Other factors a judge may take into account are:

  • The child’s relationships with each parent. 
  • The child’s relationships with siblings and other adults in their lives.
  • How involved the child is in their community (e.g., school or church).
  • Which parent is the primary caretaker?
  • The child’s wishes (only if the child is at least 12)

All of these factors will be used by the court to determine a custody case, but the one that holds the most weight is the child’s relationships with each parent. Mothers and fathers have equal custody rights over a child. 

Modifying a Parenting Plan in Washington

Parents can change a parenting plan if they mutually agree. However, in the absence of mutual agreement, there must be a significant change in circumstances to justify modifying the parenting plan or residential schedule. In that case, a Petition to Modify a Parenting Plan/Residential Schedule will have to be filed.

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