The end of a relationship is never an easy thing to go through, regardless of how serious or committed the relationship may have been. Should the couple be married, they often have to go through an emotionally frustrating divorce process in order to untangle the life they built together. This process becomes incredibly more difficult when the couple shares a child they must decide the custody of. Washington child Custody cases are often the hardest for parents to go through and can often be challenging for judges and the Washington family law court system to decide on with the emotions involved.
How is Child Custody Determined in Washington?
The Washington court system uses the “best interests of the child” standard in order to make decisions in Washington child custody cases. This standard is used to make decisions regarding who will have custody of the child and what visitation schedules will be put into place. The “best interests of the child” standard is based upon the idea that a child’s best interests are best served when supported by both parents and when both parents are responsible for child care.
Additionally, the “best interests of the child” standard upholds that both parents should have the right and responsibility to make good decisions about their child’s upbringing and that the child is best served when parents maintain his or her “emotional growth, health and stability and physical care.” Under this standard, the judge overseeing a custody case must look at the current relationship between the child and both parents to help determine the best arrangement.
Parenting Plans in Washington
Family court judges in the state of Washington encourage parents to come up with their own parenting plan before they turn to the court to make the decision for them. This parenting plan should outline the responsibilities of each parent to the child, how the parents plan to divide custody and visitation, how the child will be provided for as he or she matures, and how parents plan to resolve any disputes they have regarding custody.
A parenting plan should also outline how the parents plan to shield the child from any conflicts they may have. Additional details to include in a parenting plan are who the child will live with during certain times, who will have custody during holidays and school vacations, how the parents will come to decisions regarding the child’s medical needs, educational needs, and religious and cultural upbringing, and how costs will be shared.
Mediation and Child Custody in Washington
Should parents be unable to create a parenting plan on their own, the next step would be “conflict resolution” or mediation, arbitration, or counseling. During this process, each parent creates his or her own parenting plan and a mediator or counselor assigned by the court reviews each of the proposed plans. Once the plans have been reviewed, the mediator or counselor meets with both parents to help them reach a compromise regarding their parenting plans, and should an agreement be reached, the mediator drafts a written agreement or order for child custody in Washington based on this agreement.
Court Order Child Custody Agreements in Washington
Should parents be unable to agree on a parenting plan even with the help of mediation or counseling, they can then request a family court judge to order their parenting plan for them. The judge creates a Washington child custody order that outlines where the child lives, how the parents are to resolve any disputes, what the visitation schedule will be, and whether one or both parents are allowed to make decisions about the child’s health, education, and social upbringing.
During this decision process, the judge uses the “best interests of the child” standard in order to make an order. Some of the considered factors include, but are not limited to:
- Who the child currently lives with
- The child’s current relationship with both parents
- The child’s involvement in school or community activities
- Each parent’s capability of providing guidance for the child
- The financial stability of each parent
- The child’s relationships with other family members
- Depending on age and maturity, the child’s preferences for who to primarily live with
Generally, although these factors are considered, the judge makes a custody order that causes the least amount of disruption to the child’s life.
Child Custody Modification in Washington
Once the judge has made a Washington child custody order, the order and details within it become legally binding and cannot be changed by the parents without the court’s approval. Should modifications need to be made to the custody order, parents need to submit the changes to the court. Should the proposed modifications be within the child’s best interests and both parents are in agreement, the judge likely approves the changes and makes them an extension of the current order.
However, in cases when the parents cannot come to an agreement on the modifications needing to be made, the process becomes more complicated. The parent proposing the modification carries the burden of proving why the changes are necessary and how they benefit the child. The judge again considers a number of factors and the “best interests of the child” standard when making a decision to approve or deny the modification. Generally, courts do not like to make numerous modifications to a Washington child custody order as it causes disruption in the child’s life.
Custody and Relocation in Washington
For those custody orders where one parent is the primary custodian and the other parent has visitation, relocation can often become a touchy and emotional subject, especially when the primary custodian is requesting to move farther away from the parent with visitation. In the unlikely situation where both parents agree to the relocation, they submit the request to the court for approval. Again, if both parents are in agreement and the relocation is within the child’s best interests, the judge likely approves the move and makes it an extension of the current custody order.
However, in the more likely case that parents disagree on the relocation, the parent wishing to move again carries the burden of proving why the relocation is necessary and how it benefits the child. The judge needs to consider a number of different factors and the “best interests of the child” standard in order to make a final ruling. The judge also needs to take into account how the relocation affects the current visitation schedule and possibly what additional communication methods need to be available to keep the non-custodial or visiting parent involved in the child’s life despite a farther distance.