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Washington Child Custody Laws

Figuring out child custody arrangements can be a difficult legal process, often putting children in the middle of a contentious divorce proceeding. Most states, including Washington, offer the option of joint custody but also consider the wishes of the child when determining custody. Additionally, Washington's child custody laws recognize the visitation rights of grandparents. Let's look at some specifics.

Parenting Plans

The first thing to know about child custody laws in Washington is the correct terminology. Washington State child custody laws do not use the terms "custody" and "visitation." Instead, they refer to a parenting plan.

What Does The Parenting Plan Cover?

A parenting plan should include where the kids will live and with which parent, how the parents will make decisions regarding the children, and how future disputes between the divorcing parents will be resolved.

Who Makes The Final Decision On Custody Matters?

A Family Law Judge will determine whether your parenting plan provides the most loving and stable relationship between the children and each parent. The judge is likely to grant more time with the parent who was seeing to the daily needs of the children before the parents filed a divorce petition.

What Factors Will The Court Look At In Determining Custody Rights?

Among the factors a Washington State Family Law Judge may consider when deciding child custody arrangements are:

  • The relationships the children have with siblings and other adults in their lives;
  • How involved the children are in their community, such as in school, church and extra-curricular activities;
  • The wishes of the children, if they are old enough to express those wishes in reasonable detail;
  • Which parent has taken greater responsibility of the child; meaning which parent has consistently acted as the primary caretaker of the child in the past;
  • The physical and psychological health of everyone involved; this includes both parents and each child;
  • The ability of each parent to care for the child; including observing the work schedule of the parents, their geographic location, their current lifestyles, and so on.

What If My Former Spouse and I Can't Agree On A Parenting Plan?

It's a fact of life that sometimes parents just can't get along and make decisions regarding the best interests of their children. If the parents cannot agree to a parenting plan, they may have to go to trial in a Washington State Family Court, and have a judge decide the matter for them. The judge's decision will be final.

The basics of Washington child custody laws are listed in the following table, with links to additional articles. See FindLaw's Child Custody section, including How Child Custody Decisions Are Made to learn more.

Code Section 26.09.050; 26.10.100 et seq.
Year Uniform Child Custody Act Adopted 1979
Joint Custody an Option? Yes
Grandparent Visitation Rights Recognized? Yes, §26.09.240
Child's Own Wishes Considered? Yes

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- contact a Washington child custody attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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