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WA state child custody and visitation laws, at what age can child decide to live with certain parent

Vancouver, WA |

My boys are 13 and 11. Their father lives 6 hours away. The boys go to their dads each month, holidays, 6 weeks in summer, spring break, etc. The 13 year old has hated spending time with his dad for four years because of how he is treated when he is with him. They have a lot of unreasonable rules that only apply to the older child. He only has 20 minutes to eat, 3 minutes for a shower, has to sit on his bed for 4 to 5 hours for any violation of their rules.

He is okay going for a weekend, but cries, fights, and begs not to go for the 9 to 21 day visitations. Yet I have to make him go. Everyone I have asked tells me he has to continue visitation until he is 18. Is that true? My friend's 14 yr old son didn't want to go to his dads and the judge said he had to go because it would deny the father a relationship with his son.

My understanding is that children of this age can choose which home to live in, but cannot refuse visitation. Does my son have any options ?

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Attorney answers 3


generally no. The court beleives that a relationship with both parents is in the children's best interests. Differences in parenting styles are common. If there is actual detriment to the child (harm to physical, mental well being) and it is documented through third parties (ie not you), but through counselors etc. then sometimes you can get a minor modification but they are difficult unless you have the proper documentation to back up your claim.


Generally speaking, the son has to go, unless there is a third party (counselor, therapist etc) that has filed a report for the court that it would be extremely harmful to the child's emotional or physical well being to continue with the visitation. Courts DO NOT like to lessen visitation and I have had judges hold parents in contempt for not making the children go. Courts believe that both parents should share a relationship, and the difference in parenting styles, including strict rules, are not viewed as a reason to change the visitation schedule.


I am so sorry that your boy is going through such an awful time. His brother is probably hurt by this treatment of his older sibling, too. This situation stinks!

This situation is similar to the case I went clear to the Supreme Court of Washington on, Rideout and Rideout (copy and paste into your browser window - My client's daughter did not want to go for the whole summer vacation with her father (though she agreed to go to part of it) and my client was held in contempt. Here is what I learned from this case: Get a very good counselor or family mediator involved right away - make sure that you follow the requirements for joint decision making if you are going to have your child go to the counselor. Your parenting plan has a section on dispute resolution - use it. Most of them say that the parties will mediate before going to court. Make a good faith effort to mediate on all issues that concern you right away.

If mediation does not work and the father refuses to allow the counselor you can go to court and ask for the decision making on that issue to be reserved to you alone because of these things the father is doing. I don't believe that the court will ignore your concerns. If you are going to court anyway for that modification of the parenting plan, you can ask to modify other parts of the plan that may limit the types of punishment or the lengths of time with Dad.

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