Understanding Visitation in a Washington with the Help of a Seattle Visitation Lawyer

While Washington no longer uses the language of custody to describe parenting arrangements, parenting plans do often divide time unequally with one parent being the primary residential parent. The other parent is often referred to as having visitation rights. Your Seattle visitation lawyer can give you more information about exactly what that means.

A Seattle Visitation Lawyer Will Help with the Schedule

The reason parenting time is often unequal is that the courts tend to believe that the children’s school time should not be disrupted by going back and forth. Thus they tend to leave the children in one household for school days, but divide up the rest of the schedule. A Seattle visitation lawyer can describe a typical visitation schedule, which might be something like every other weekend, a block or blocks of time during the summer, and half of the other school breaks and holidays.

Joint Decision Making Under a Visitation Schedule

Outside of the visitation schedule, parenting plans are structured to keep both parents as involved as possible in raising their children. Normally joint decision making is mandated, which means both parents need to agree on major decisions such as school choice, medical care, etc. It can be a good idea to spend time with your Seattle visitation lawyer further defining joint decision making in more depth than the standard language in the parenting plan forms.

Alternate Parenting Arrangements

Certainly one factor that can influence a court’s willingness to consider a different kind of visitation schedule is how well the parents are able to cooperate for the good of the children. When parents are able to work well co-parenting with each other, the children will have a more stable environment and can better handle some disruptions, and what disruptions exist will be less impactful.

If you do hope to keep a good co-parenting relationship in place, you should consider using a non-litigation approach to the divorce. Every Seattle visitation attorney in our office is trained in alternate dispute resolution methods such as mediation and collaboration. Such an approach avoids inflaming emotions and making things worse. In particular, working with a parenting specialist in the collaborative divorce process can help two parents build a foundation for future cooperation while planning together how they want to raise their children in two households.

Restricted Visitation

On the other hand, when parents are not able to work well with each other, the courts tend to find it important to keep some distance between the parents and to minimize child transfers between the parents, as those exchanges are often flash points for conflict. In severe cases the court may require the parents to exchange the children in a neutral location such as a parking lot or through a neutral third party. Your Seattle visitation lawyer can help you decide what may be appropriate in your case.

If there is a history of abusive behaviors, the court may even restrict visitation to a supervised setting. The courts tend to believe that losing contact with a parent entirely is detrimental to the child’s long term mental and emotional health. Therefore the courts prefer to order supervised visitation to ensure that the child still has a relationship with the parent, while keeping the child safe.

Constitutional Issues Impacting Visitation For Grandparents And Other Relatives

As an experienced Seattle visitation lawyer knows all too well, around 1998 – 2000 there were several court cases that found Washington’s laws on third party visitation to be unconstitutional. This made it basically impossible in most situations for a non-parent such as a grandparent to bring any kind of legal action seeking visitation with a child. Only recently has the Washington legislature put in place new laws again providing for third party visitation actions, specifically designed to avoid the constitutional issues that had created problems for so many years.

Washington’s New Relative Visitation Laws

Washington’s new laws are found in RCW 26.11. Under the new nonparental child visitation chapter, in order to be granted such visitation, you must:

  • Have an ongoing and substantial relationship with the child, and
  • Be a relative of the child, and
  • Be able to show that the child is likely to suffer harm if visitation is denied.
  • Be able to show that visitation is in the best interest of the child.

Washington Restrictions in Who Can Seek Relative Visitation

There are significant restrictions, however, that you will need to specifically discuss with an experienced Seattle visitation attorney. The substantial relationship must have been ongoing for at least two years, or half of the life of the child for a child under two. The relationship must also have been without expectation of financial compensation.

That second provision is one to take particular note of. It means that, for instance, a grandparent who has been paid to sit the grandchildren is not able to bring a visitation action! If you think that you may sometime in the future need to file for third party visitation rights, you need to make sure you are NOT accepting any compensation from the parents (or anyone else such as the state). While sitting the child may establish the needed relationship, it must not be paid.

Presumption In Favor Of Parents Denying Relative Visitation

There is also a presumption in favor of a parental decision to deny visitation, so this resumption must be specifically rebutted by clear and convincing evidence that the visitation is in the best interest of the child. Washington’s RCW 26.11.040 lists a number of factors for the court to consider in weighing this burden of proof is met. These factors include:

  • The relationship between the relative and the child.
  • The relationship between the parents and the child.
  • The relationship between the relative and the parents.
  • The parents’ reasons for objecting to visitation.
  • The child’s preferences (if the child is old enough).

Our Seattle Visitation Attorneys Can Also Help You Earn Custody

As mentioned earlier, a third party such as a grandparent in Washington also can seek custody of a child rather than just visitation. This is an option you should also discuss with your Seattle visitation attorney.

Interestingly, one does not have to be a relative to bring a custody action. You do have to show that either the child is not in the physical custody of at least one parent, OR that neither parent is a suitable custodian (unfit to parent). The court also needs to find that the placement with the third party is in the child’s best interest.

Call Seattle Divorce Services Today to Speak with a Seattle Visitation Attorney

Make sure to discuss custody and visitation with your Seattle visitation lawyer early in your case so you can get off on the right foot. To schedule an appointment, we can be reached through the form on our website, or you can call us at 206-784-3049.