Understanding Visitation in 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.

When it comes to overnight visitation, Washington law does not state that overnight visits are required or at what age they are appropriate. If you and your spouse are unable to come to an agreement, however, the matter will be decided by the court. Normally overnight visits would be awarded unless there are specific factors such as: 

  • The difficulty of caring for/feeding the child at night such as during the infant years
  • A lack of parenting ability
  • A lack of adequate accommodations
  • A history of substance abuse of domestic violence

The issue of overnight visitation can be difficult to resolve. An experienced Seattle visitation lawyer can work with you and your former spouse to reach an arrangement that is fair for both sides and provides a healthy and safe environment for your child.

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.

There is no obligation to hire an attorney to negotiate a visitation schedule, particularly if you and your former spouse are able to come to an agreement easily. That said, you may want to consider working with a Seattle visitation lawyer if the following factors apply to your case: 

  • You are concerned for the safety of your child.
  • Your case involves allegations of abuse. 
  • Your case involves allegations of alcohol or drug abuse.
  • Your spouse is unnecessarily hostile and adversarial. 
  • Your circumstances will require an unusual visitation arrangement. 

Non-parental relatives who are seeking visitation rights should speak with a Seattle visitation lawyer before taking action as these are complicated cases. If you petition the court for visitation and your petition is denied, you cannot seek visitation again. 

Our Seattle Visitation Lawyers Can Help with Restricted Visitation Situations

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.

What to Do If Your Co-Parent Isn’t Honoring the Visitation Schedule

Parenting plans are always drafted with the best of intentions. Unfortunately, life can get in the way. Sometimes the relationship with your co-parent deteriorates, and they start violating the visitation schedule out of spite. In other situations, they may simply be struggling to maintain control of their life. Whatever the case, it’s important to understand that you have options. 

  1. You always have the option to do nothing. This can help build your case later if you can show that you didn’t seek immediate legal action at the first minor violation. However, you do risk creating the impression that you have consented to a change to the visitation plan that you do not want. 
  2. Hire a visitation lawyer to issue a demand letter. Your Seattle visitation lawyer can send a stern letter demanding that they take immediate steps to honor the visitation plan. This step is often sufficient to end the violations. 
  3. File a motion for modification. You can file a motion with the court asking to modify the visitation plan to correct the violation. You and your co-parent may be able to come to an agreement to make the process easier. 
  4. File a motion for contempt. If the co-parent won’t agree to a modification and refuses to honor the visitation plan, your only option may be to file a motion for contempt. If your co-parent is found to be in contempt, they may be ordered by the court to comply with the visitation plan, as well as allow for additional visitation to correct the past violations. They may also be ordered to pay your attorney’s fees. If they do not honor the court’s order, they may face severe consequences such as fines or even incarceration. 

That said, it’s important to keep in mind that some parents use unintentional or minor violations of the visitation agreement as a way to harass the other parent. Accordingly, some judges may grow tired of such efforts and deny motions because they believe they are without merit. Our Seattle visitation lawyer can help you decide when the time is right to pursue a modification or contempt order and then build the strongest possible case. 

What is a reasonable visitation plan?

There is no one-size-fits-all visitation plan – what is reasonable for one family may not be appropriate for another. While the parenting plan should aim to be as fair and equitable as possible, it will vary according to each parent’s schedule, location, and ability to provide care. A Seattle visitation attorney can help you negotiate a fair visitation plan for both you and your children. 

I’m worried about my children’s safety. What options do I have?

If there are concerns about abuse or other hazards, you may be entitled to ask the court to require the co-parent be limited to visitation in a supervised setting. To be successful, it is important to articulate your concerns clearly and include evidence. If you are concerned for your child’s safety, we strongly recommend that you speak to a Seattle visitation lawyer at our family law firm right away.

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.

Our Seattle Visitation Lawyer Explains 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 the 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 when determining whether 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).

The Visitation Hearing

If you are unable to agree on visitation, the matter may have to be resolved at a court hearing. If a hearing is scheduled, you can expect the following: 

  • The court will take testimony from both sides as to why or why not visitation should be granted. 
  • The court will accept evidence supporting each side’s position, including testimony from witnesses, court records, a report from a Guardian ad Litem or parenting investigator, and anything else that may be deemed relevant. 
  • The GAL/investigator report may include the results of an interview with your child, including any statements as to their preferences. 
  • After reviewing the evidence and considering the testimony given, the judge will determine whether visitation should be granted, and if so, what an appropriate visitation arrangement would be. While they will consider the totality of the circumstances, the judge will ultimately base their decision on what is in the best interest of the child

A Seattle visitation lawyer can represent you at the visitation hearing and make sure that you are fully prepared. Your lawyer will help protect your parental rights as well as your child’s future.

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 Lawyer

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.

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