Washington State Child Custody Law and Parenting Issues
Under Washington State Child Custody Law, a child’s timesharing (residential) schedule and related custody issues are addressed in a court order called a parenting plan. Contested child custody cases are some of the most challenging for Seattle child custody lawyer to handle in a divorce, modification, or non-parental custody case.
The term “child custody” in Washington State is sometimes misinterpreted to mean the parent designated the “custodial parent” has more rights than the other non-custodial parent. Unless there is a basis to order restrictions or limitations on visitation, both parents maintain their parenting rights including residential time and decision making. Parental rights are only limited by legal findings of abuse, neglect, abuse of conflict, domestic violence, or other factors which the court concludes will negatively impact the best interests of the child.
The Residential Schedule in a Wa Divorce Case
Whether the parenting plan give one parent primary custody, is a 50/50, or involved long distance parenting, one of the primary tasks of a Seattle Child Custody Lawyer is to help determine the best residential schedule for his client.
For examples of some common residential schedule provisions, see Residential Schedule and Visitation Worksheet
Under Washington State child custody law, the parent with whom the children live with the majority of the time is known as the “primary parent”. Joint custody means each spouse has 50% residential time.
If separating parents cannot agree on arrangements, the court looks at the best interests of the child to determine the parenting plan. A number of factors are weighed, the most important being the relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent. In such cases, having an experienced child custody lawyer to gather the evidence, communicate with experts, and effectively present your case is crucial.
High Conflict Child Custody Cases
Certain situations are more likely to result in contested child custody cases.
Relocation Out of Washington State
Common reasons for seeking relocation during or after a Washington divorce include moving to be close to family, obtaining employment, or moving to be with a new spouse.
Once a court ordered parenting plan is in place, if a custodial parent wants to move with the children to another state, that parent must notify the other parent. The other parent can object to the move. There is a legal presumption that the move will be allowed, but the court weighs many factors into making its decision.
Identifying Parental Alienation in a Washington Child Custody Case
Parenting alienation occurs when a child has unjustified hatred or unreasonably strong dislike of one parent. It results from the “programming” of a child by one parent to reject the other parent in an effort to interfere with the child’s relationship with that parent. It is a common phenomenon in high conflict divorces. It can cause significant long-term harm to both the child and the other parent.
Signs of parenting alienation include the following:
- Berating and badmouthing the other parent
- Asking the child to choose one parent over the other or takes sides
- Making a child feel guilty if they show affection toward the other parent
- Supporting a child’s refusal to be with the other parent
- Giving children reasons for feeling angry at the other parent
- False allegations of child abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, or other illegal activities
- Limiting time with the other parent without justification
Experienced Washington State Child Custody Lawyers and family law courts recognize signs of parenting alienation. If evidence of parenting alienation is found, the court will factor it into a final child custody decision.
Washington State Divorce and Special Needs Children
Children with special needs often present unique challenges in child custody cases.
Special needs include:
- Medical health issues such as deafness, blindness, and traumatic brain injury
- Behavioral Issues such as ADHD
- Mental health issues like depression and anxiety
- Developmental disabilities including speech or language impairment, autism and down syndrome
- Learning disabilities due to dyslexia, developmental aphasia, etc.
If your child has special needs, they should be carefully addressed in the child custody and child support orders.
When a Guardian ad Litem or Parenting Evaluator is needed
Disputes regarding child custody, the residential schedule, visitation, decision-making, and relocation often require the court appointment of a guardian ad litem or parenting evaluator who investigates the facts of the case and provides a recommendation to the court.
The recommendation is not binding on the court’s decision. However, if done well, it is typically very influential on the Judge.
As a result, a recommendation that is unfavorable should be avoided as much as possible. At Weintraub Law Office, we carefully vet potential guardian ad litems and parenting evaluators for any bias or personal or business conflict of interest before their appointment. We help our clients understand the investigation process which can be of tremendous advantage in determining the outcome.
Bo Weintraub has Guardian ad Litem training and has substantial knowledge in that area. He is also very experienced with family law cases involving special needs children, Washington state special education services and individualized education programs (IEPs).
Weintraub Law Office has offices in Seattle, Bellevue, and Bothell and represents clients in King, Snohomish, and Pierce County.