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Going through a separation or divorce can result in couples having to discuss custody of their shared children. Sometimes these decisions can be made mutually without conflict, but oftentimes the law has to get involved to help couples come to a fair custody agreement.

Washington State Custody Laws are, first and foremost, structured to benefit the child/ren. When the two parties are unable to come to a custody agreement on their own, a judgment will be made based on what is in the best interest of the child.

What are the Child Custody Laws in Washington?

Law books stacked on a table

When filing for divorce in Washington State, it is not only assets that need to be split. Arrangements need to be made for any children involved, and this can get tricky when working with a soon to be ex-spouse and kids in the middle. 

Fortunately, Washington has established child custody laws to help people navigate this process when they are unable to settle on agreement out of court.

Parenting Plans/ Residential Schedules 

Instead of the familiar verbiage of custody or visitation, Washington courts use the terms “parenting plans” or “residential schedules”. A parenting plan will lay out the schedule(s) for custody and visitation, who makes decisions about the child’s wellbeing, and how parents settle disagreements. 

Custody to Mother 

In Washington state, custody will default to the mother if parents aren’t married.

Joint Custody 

Washington recognizes joint custody for a parenting plan. So long as the agreement is in the best interest of the child, the joint custody plan can be whatever the judge feels is fair and realistic.

Grandparent Visitation Rights 

As per Section 26.09.240: A person other than a parent may petition the court for visitation with a child at any time or may intervene in a pending dissolution, legal separation, or modification of parenting plan proceeding. 

This means that a grandparent or legal guardian may have visitation rights if this is agreed upon by both parents.

Struggling to come to an agreement that works for you and your child/ren? Bringing on a knowledgeable and experienced attorney will help you through this complicated process.

Frequently Asked Questions

While the laws in Washington lay out some specifics, navigating the child custody agreement process can still be confusing and stressful. Following are a few frequently asked questions regarding child custody laws in Washington State.  

Can a parenting plan be made outside of court?

Yes, if parties are able to come to an agreement outside of court. This is allowed but it is still often approved by the court as a formality. 

What if we can’t agree on a parenting plan?

The court gets involved in these situations for the best interest of the child and to make decisions when the parties involved cannot. If you have trouble coming to an agreement, the judge will create a plan. They will consider which parents are caring for the child, how far each parent lives from the child’s school or daycare, and other important factors to come up with a fair and just agreement. 

Can we change a parenting plan? 

Yes. Remember, the most important thing is that the child is in the best situation for them. If a current plan does not meet the needs of the child, modifications can be made. 

Can I get custody or visitation if the child is not my biological child? 

There are plenty of instances where you may want to be involved in custody if you are not a biological parent. In circumstances where you raised the child, lived with them for a long period of time, or have a positive relationship with the child in general, there may be ways to get custody. In some cases, you will need to file a Petition to Decide Parentage

How is a parenting plan enforced?

If one party doesn’t complete their requirements or breaks the plan in some way, the other party can take them to court. This will result in attorney fees, fines, and possible imprisonment for the person not following the parenting plan. 

Get Help with Your Child Custody Battle

Still have questions? Ready to get started on a parenting plan? Have a trusted attorney by your side to answer any questions, advocate for you and your child, and ensure the best arrangement for your family. Contact the Law Office of Jeff E. Jared – trusted Washington State family law attorneys.