Your Trusted Seattle Child Custody Lawyer Advocates for Your Family

Surprisingly, under Washington Law, there really is no such thing as “child custody”. Still, many people will search for us under Seattle’s child custody lawyer, and I will continue to use the term child custody on this page simply because that is the common term people know.

Our legislature got rid of most custody language several decades ago and substituted the term “parenting plan”. While this can sound like playing with words, the idea was both to get away from the notion that a child is awarded to one parent or the other and to instead emphasize the role of both parents in raising a child.

Equality Is Not Required in Washington Child Custody Arrangements

This does not mean, however, that parenting time is necessarily equal in a parent plan. Ultimately the court is more concerned with what it feels is best for the child rather than what is most fair to the parents. There may be various reasons for having the child with one parent more than the other, including:

  • Not disrupting school and homework – this often (but not always) means having a schedule that keeps the child in one home during the school week
  • Where each parent resides – distance between their residences can affect what will work well (extended frequent travel time is not a plus)
  • The parenting skill of each parent – the issue is not so much who is better, but whether each parent is adequate
  • The child’s feelings about the parenting schedule – the child may be interviewed by a court appointed investigator
  • Extracurricular activities – the child’s schedule might affect where the child needs to be at certain times of the week
  • A history of abusive behavior by a parent – this may require limitations on a parent’s time with the child

Since our courts avoid using child custody language, when one parent has more time than the other parent, we usually refer to that parent as the “primary residential parent”. The other parent is often then said to have “visitation” time, though this term would seem to run counter to the notion of emphasizing the importance of the roles of both parents. Perhaps “other residential parent” would be better.

The Residential Schedule for Child Custody

In developing a child custody parenting schedule or parenting agreement, the court generally wants to have it specific enough that at any given time it is clear which parent has the right to be with the child. Your Seattle child custody lawyer can help you with this. The need for detail is to avoid disputes as to where the child should be at any given time. The court does not want you having to come back to for a hearing when issues arise, rather the answer to any dispute should be “look at the parenting plan”. A typical arrangement will start with the regular weekly schedule, then make exceptions for school vacations and holidays. For instance, how are the parents going to handle Thanksgiving if both parents have family traditions around the holiday?

A child custody parenting schedule may also look very different if the parents live a long distance from each other or one decides to relocate. If one parent is in Seattle and the other in San Francisco, it is not realistic to talk about alternating weekends. In those cases it may be necessary to have the school time with one parent and school breaks mostly with the other.

How Your Seattle Child Custody Lawyer Can Help with More Complicated Matters

Parenting plans deal with may other issues besides time, and again your attorney will help you with these. There are also sections on:

  • joint decision making – generally both parents should be involved in major decisions affecting the child, such as educational issues and medical care
  • dispute resolution -usually there will be a process, such as mediation, that the parents need to follow before bringing future custody or parenting issues back to the court
  • unique situations that arise with same sex couples – such as the parental status of both parents
  • transportation between the parents – this is especially important when the parents do not live close to each other, or there is significant parental conflict
  • relocation (moving out of the area) – when a parent moves out of the area, prior notice is required so that any needed changes to the custody arrangements can be worked out
  • “other” matters. This is where we can address special concerns that have been raised, such as rights to care for the children when the scheduled parent is unavailable.

Additionally, if you choose a collaborative process, you will be working with a professional team that includes the child custody lawyers as well as a coach or child specialist. Some of the parenting discussions will likely take place at full group meetings with your lawyer present, while others may involve working with just the coach or parenting specialist to work out details. The role of your Seattle custody attorney in the full group meetings is to help lay out a framework of issues and work with the other team members to guide you through a process of outlining the goals and major concepts that the two of you want to build your parenting plan around.

A Seattle Child Custody Lawyer Can Help with Proving a Parent Is Unfit

Keep in mind that when we talk about winning custody, we are usually referring to gaining the majority of time with the child (primary residential parent), not full time and not full control. Since the courts want to preserve as much relationship with both parents as possible, parenting plans are structured to keep both parents involved. Even an abusive parent might have limited contact with the child, such as supervised visitation where the child is protected but still has the opportunity to know the parent.

What Evidence Will I Need To Win Custody from an Unfit Parent?

In a standard divorce where both parents are fit parents, but the court is being asked to choose one as the primary residential parent (typically this refers to the one the children will be with during the school week), a court may form a negative opinion of a parent who tries to run down the other parent. This may actually be seen as a sign that the parent is not able to separate out their own feelings from what is best for the children. A more positive approach may work better, pointing out what you bring to parenting (special skills or training, availability, etc.)  and how you plan to include and work with the other parent.

If you believe the other parent really is unfit, you will need to provide specific factual evidence. Your child custody attorney can help you determine what evidence will be most helpful. If there has been abuse, medical reports can be helpful, as can pictures of injuries. Eye witness accounts of abuse may help as well. In these cases it is very important to work with the parenting investigator, supplying them with the information you have as well as names and contact information for people who have knowledge. It is important to keep the information provided as factual as possible. Going on rants about how awful the other person is do not help, rather they make you look angry and vindictive. Present your facts and let the other person (investigator or judge) decide for themselves.

What Will My Child Be Asked in a Child Custody Proceeding?

Judges do not like to have children testify in court. Doing so would put them in a very difficult position with regard to loyalty to both parents as well as cause significant emotional strain. If the court wants information from a child, they generally ask the court appointed investigator to interview the child and report back. If you have concerns, make sure you discuss them with your Seattle child custody lawyer.

There is an interesting rule that among other factors the court can consider “the wishes of a child who is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences as to his or her residential schedule”. Maturity in this context does not refer to the age of the child so much as the degree to which the reasons given represent mature thinking. So a child that says I would like to live with Mom/Dad because they buy me stuff is not showing very mature reasoning. On the other hand, a child who says Dad/Mom is better at providing an environment for me to get my homework done is giving a more mature reason. However, it is very important the you NOT try to coach your child on what to say. This will often come out and can be a strong mark against you.

Usually, however, the interviewer will try to avoid direct questions like “which parent would you prefer to live with” which tend to put the child on the spot. Instead they are likely to ask more indirect questions like “tell me about your parents” and “what do you like to do with each parent”. Some children are very conscious of not saying anything negative about either parent and trying to keep it neutral, while other children have strong opinions that they will make a point of stating.

The Importance of Positive Evidence for Child Custody Hearings

Interestingly, if you can provide positive information on top of the negative facts about the other parent, this may actually help you be taken more seriously. For instance, you could say the other parent is generous and cares about the children, but loses their temper and become violent too easily.

Often parents provide declarations from various friends and family that have little factual information in them. I often call these “good Mom/Dad” declarations. They are pretty much useless and are largely ignored. It does not help for outside people to say you are a good parent/spouse/person, to repeat stories you have told them about the other parent, or generally offer their opinions about what should happen. If they have witnessed something specific that your Seattle child custody attorney thinks would be helpful, that is the declaration you should obtain.

Our Seattle Child Custody Lawyer Answers Your Frequently Asked Questions

How is visitation different from custody? And will our Seattle child custody lawyer include both in the parenting plan?

The terminology can be somewhat confusing. Traditionally, spouses with children would negotiate who would get primary custody of the children (i.e., who the children would live with most of the time). The non-custodial parent would then negotiate visitation. Often however, parents try to establish an arrangement that is closer to 50/50. As a result, the terms “custody” and “visitation” are somewhat outdated and now we often just refer to parenting time. Parenting time for both parents will be addressed in detail in the parenting plan. 

Can I get sole custody or full custody of my children?

Modern divorce law focuses on the child’s best interests with a presumption that it is beneficial for them to have relationships with both parents. As a result, it is relatively rare for one parent to be granted sole custody of the child. However, it is possible in cases where the child’s health, safety, or welfare is in danger, although even then the non-custodial parent may be granted limited supervised visitation. If you think your children are at risk of harm, you should speak to a Seattle child custody attorney at Seattle Divorce Services before finalizing your parenting plan. 

How can I get the other parent to cooperate with me?

Parenting goes much smoother when both parents are able to work cooperatively with each other. This starts with cooperating on working out the parenting plan. To get cooperation from the other parent, you have to start by offering it yourself. Starting the case out with a declaration about the other parent’s faults, accusing them of various things to get the advantage, is not a good way to begin if you can avoid it. When you attack, the other person naturally becomes defensive, and any potential for cooperation shrivels.

Instead you might start out by letting the other parent know you hope to work out parenting arrangements cooperatively and that you value their parenting skills and want the children to be close to both of you. If you do have differences in parenting philosophies or styles, acknowledge those differences without characterizing them as right or wrong. Just make it clear that those differences are things the two of you are going to need to discuss to come up with a plan that will work best for your children. It can be helpful to recognize that the two households may be different, even have different rules, but that such differences can work best when you both support each other in your differences.

The other parent won’t follow our agreed-upon custody arrangement. What do I do?

You have four options if the other parent regularly violates your parenting plan: 

  1. Take no action
  2. Hire a custody attorney to issue a demand letter
  3. File a motion for modification of the parenting plan
  4. File a motion for contempt 

The best thing you can do is speak with a Seattle child custody law firm to understand your options, as each option has advantages and disadvantages depending on your specific situation. 

I plan to relocate out of state. How will this affect custody?

A 50/50 custody arrangement will most likely be impossible. Most custody arrangements involving an out-of-state parent usually entail one parent having custody during the school year and the other parent having custody during summer break. The parents then negotiate who will have custody during holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving or spring and winter breaks. If your relocation isn’t yet definite, you should alert the other parent to this possibility but negotiate the parenting plan that works best for the foreseeable future. A Seattle child custody attorney can help you navigate the complexities of this situation. 

The other parent is moving away and wants to have primary custody. What do I do?

This can be a complicated situation because one parent will end up with less time weekly than the other parent. In these situations, getting a resolution will likely require a court hearing. The court will hear evidence regarding your child’s schooling, social environment, sports and other activities, and other relationships your child may have in the area. In general, the court will evaluate what would be in the best interests of your child. We strongly recommend consulting with a Seattle child custody attorney at our office to ensure that both your rights and your child’s interests are protected.

When does the Court appoint an investigator?

When parents have having trouble agreeing on child custody parenting arrangements, the court will often appoint a parenting evaluator or Guardian ad Litem for the children (the two roles are very similar). The person appointed will perform an investigation and submit a report. The investigator may:

  • review the court records
  • talking to both parents
  • talking to people who know the parents
  • interviewing the child
  • checking with school personnel
  • have psychological testing done when appropriate.

They do not have final decision making power, but their recommendations are taken very seriously by the court. If there is a court appointed investigator appointed in your case, it is very important that you cooperate with them fully.

Contact an Experienced Seattle Child Custody Attorney Today

When you need a child custody attorney, give us a call to make an appointment for an initial consultation where we can further discuss the specifics of your case. Call 206-784-3049 today or use the form on our website to schedule a meeting with one of our family law attorneys.

Read Our Parenting Guide to Divorce to Help Your Family Cope During a Divorce