Guide to Child Custody Laws in Washington
Parents living in Washington may be surprised to know that the state's laws surrounding custody issues are completely unique in the nation. Child custody laws in Washington were revised in the mid-1990s to make parents work together to create a parenting plan whenever there is a divorce or separation between parents. This guide will help you understand the basic issues involved in determining child custody in Washington.
Can Children Decide?
Children's wishes are taken into account to varying degrees in different states. Washington does not allow children to unilaterally decide which parent to reside with, but may take a child's wishes into account. Parents who are working out a parenting plan according to child custody laws in Washington may want to take their child's wishes into account as well. However, in general, a child must abide by the court's decision even if it goes against their stated preference.
Child custody laws in Washington are the only custody laws in the nation that require all parents to develop a parenting plan. Parenting plans may be developed by both parents together—which will generally result in court approval and the implementation of the agreement—or, if they cannot agree, a parenting plan will be written out by each parent and given to the judge.
Judges may also ask parents to attend mediation in order to resolve any outstanding disagreements in their individual parenting plans. Particularly if only a few issues are disputed, a mediator may be able to help parents arrive at an agreement. Child custody laws in Washington allow both mediated plans and plans made in conjunction with family lawyers to be given to the court.
Parenting plans in Washington must include a division of parenting functions. Child custody laws in Washington list one of these functions as decision-making authority. Parents may divide this decisionmaking authority equally, in which case they are expected to share in the decisionmaking process, or some decisions may be placed solely in each parent's hands.
Courts may also determine which parent should have decisionmaking responsibility. When this happens, child custody laws in Washington regulate what factors the court is allowed to examine. Generally, judges will look not only at the wishes of the parents, but also at how decisions in the child's life have previously been made and whether the child's health or safety would be negatively impacted by allowing either parent to make decisions.
Where a child lives must also be determined in parenting plans, according to child custody laws in Washington. Residential scheduling divides a child's time between both parents. Generally, both parents will have a right to have access to their child.
There are as many ways to schedule residency as there are parent/child situations—no situation is exactly the same, so most parenting plans simply decide on an arrangement that works for all parties involved. A parent who lives far away, for instance, may be given longer but less frequent visitation periods, while two parents who live near each other and can collaborate well may choose to split a child's time evenly.