Understanding Child Custody and Parenting Plans in Washington
Surprisingly, under Washington Law there really is no such thing as “child custody”. Still many people will search for us under Seattle 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 Parenting Plans
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
- Where each parent resides
- The parenting skill of each parent
- The child’s feelings about the parenting schedule
- Extracurricular activities
- A history of abusive behavior by a parent
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, 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.
Other Child Custody Parenting Issues
Parenting plans deal with may other issues besides time, and again your Seattle child custody lawyer will help you with these. There are also sections on:
- joint decision making
- dispute resolution
- transportation between the parents
- relocation (moving out of the area)
- “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.
Court Appointed Investigators
When parents have having trouble agreeing on child custody parenting arrangements, at the request of your Seattle child custody lawyer 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 a Seattle Child Custody Lawyer Today
When you need a Seattle child custody lawyer, give us a call to make an appointment for an initial consultation where we can further discuss the specifics of your case. Call 286-784-3049 today for a no-obligation meeting with one of our top attorneys.