Dealing with a divorce is often challenging, especially when there are children involved. Suddenly, you are faced with questions about where your child will live, with whom, and for how long. Let’s take a closer look at how Washington state divorce courts determine child custody arrangements so that you can have a better understanding of what to expect from the legal process.
Putting Children First
Like most states, Washington prioritizes the best interests of the child when determining child custody arrangements. Even in cases where both parents have come to their own child custody agreement, the judge must review this proposal to make sure the child will be sufficiently supported.
As the judge constructs the terms of a child custody arrangement, several factors will be taken into consideration, such as:
- The quality of the relationship between each parent and the child
- The financial stability of each parent
- The level of involvement of each parent in the child’s life
- The ability of each parent to make decisions in the child’s best interest
As much as possible, Washington divorce courts will attempt to implement a child parenting plan that encourages the child to cultivate and enjoy strong relationships with both parents. Depending on the financial stability, work schedule, and home environment of each parent, the parenting plan will vary from family to family in order to best accommodate the child’s needs.
Regardless of one parent being the primary parent or the parties having a shared plan, certain decisions require joint decision making, i.e. health care and education.
Understanding Sole Custody
While the term “sole custody” is commonly used to discuss arrangements in which the child lives primarily with one parent, Washington judges do not typically use this term themselves. Instead, custody matters are discussed using terms such as “primary residential parent” or “decision-making parent.” For the most part, the court will seek to create parenting plans that actively support relationships between the child and both parents.
Of course, in some cases, one parent may have exhibited abusive behavior or cannot provide a safe and stable residential environment for the child. When this happens, the court will carefully consider the specifics of the situation, seeking constructive ways to forge a positive relationship between that parent and the child. The court tries to avoid completely severing the tie between the struggling parent and the child; instead, if there is any risk to the child, access to the troubled parent may be more limited or supervised. In general, family psychologists and other professionals find that the more they can encourage healthy and supervised contact between the child and each parent, the more beneficial the outcomes will be for parents and children alike.