Written by attorney Brent Patrick Bohan

How do I get Child Custody in Washington State?

Child custody and visitation is usually the most important issue when a relationship is ending and is probably the most contentious. Most people want to know how the court will decide which parent has primary custody and how much visitation each parent will receive. Washington courts look at a number of factors when deciding child custody, chief among them is what is in the best interest of the child.

The “best interest of the child" standard

The first factor the Washington courts consider when determining child custody is what is in the best interest of the child. The Washington state legislature has enumerated certain factors that the court is to use in determining what is in the best interest of the child and therefore how child custody is to be decided. The Washington state legislature has also codified the belief that as long as both parents are fit and able, then it is in the best interest of the child to have both parents in the child’s life. The United States Supreme Court has also stated that a parent has a constitutional right to see his or her child. It is important to keep in mind that despite the difficulties between the two parents, it is still important that the child has both parents in his or her life.

According to RCW 26.09.187(3)(a), the state legislature has dictated that: “The court shall make residential provisions for each child which encourages each parent to maintain a loving, stable, and nurturing relationship with the child, consistent with the child's developmental level and the family's social and economic circumstances." The main concern of the court (and any good parent) is that the child has a loving, safe, and stable environment. The court usually hopes to achieve that by creating a parenting plan that closely mimics the child’s current or customary residential schedule. Having the children stay in their routine helps provide a stable environment and eases them into an otherwise difficult situation. The court will also take into account additional factors for deciding child custody.

Factors used to determine Child Custody

The Washington state legislature has enumerated seven factors that the courts have to consider when determining child custody. As long as there are no limiting factors (enumerated in RCW 26.09.191), such as: physical, sexual or emotional abuse towards the child, a history of domestic violence, substance abuse problems that have impaired parenting functions, child abandonment, or the absence of emotional ties with the child; the court has to consider the seven enumerated factors when determining child custody. The seven factors are: (1) the relative strength, nature, and stability of the child's relationship with each parent; (2) the agreements of the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily; (3) each parent's past and potential for future performance of parenting functions, including whether a parent has taken greater responsibility for performing parenting functions relating to the daily needs of the child; (4) the emotional needs and developmental level of the child; (5) the child's relationship with siblings and with other significant adults, as well as the child's involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities; (6) the wishes of the parents and the wishes of a child who is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to his or her residential schedule; and (7) each parent's employment schedule, and shall make accommodations consistent with those schedules. The Washington courts give the first factor the greatest weight.

The court uses these factors to decide who has been the primary caregiver for the child and then usually assigns primary custody to that parent. Primary custody usually means that parent has the majority of the residential time and receives the child support payment. Understanding how child custody is decided can help you gain the custody you want after a relationship has ended.

Child custody proceedings can be complex. It is possible to represent yourself in these matters, but you may be putting yourself at a huge disadvantage. It is important that you contact an experienced and knowledgeable child custody attorney. You can reach a child custody attorney at Bohan Law, PLLC by calling 425-582-0167 or by sending us a secure message.

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