Child Custody Attorney
VANCOUVER WA | CAMAS WA | BATTLE GROUND WA
Determining child custody can be one of the most challenging and emotionally difficult aspects facing couples who are separating or getting a divorce. While the situation can be complicated, it must adhere to the applicable laws established by the Washington State Legislature. Before granting a divorce decree, the court will require the interested parties create an acceptable parenting plan that includes:
- Where the children will live
- How decisions affecting their welfare will be made
- How future disputes will be resolved
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Determining Child Custody
Judges prefer that parents devise a plan with the assistance of a family law attorney if necessary. If they cannot agree, a judge will make the final determination. The law requires that the best interest of the children guide the decision. Before approving a parenting plan, the court will consider factors like:
- The emotional connection between the child and any involved family members
- The parent’s interest in and attitude toward the children
- The fitness of the primary caregiver
- Any history of abuse or neglect
- How each parent will facilitate the child’s interactions with the other parent
- The children’s personal preferences
Based on these factors, the parenting plan will determine whether there will be sole or shared custody and who will have authority to make decisions regarding the health and welfare of the children.
Sole versus Joint Custody
Full custody, or sole custody, occurs when only one parent is granted the authority to make decisions regarding the children. It may be awarded when one parent has been the primary decision maker all along or the other parent has been absent or neglectful. Joint custody allows both parents to be involved in making important decisions.
Physical Custody versus Legal Custody
Physical custody refers to the parenting time when the child is physically in the presence of one of his or her parents. This is different from legal custody, which is the legal authority to make decisions regarding the child. While parents may share parenting time, the custody arrangement will determine if they have sole or joint legal custody.
Custody Disputes and Enforcing Parenting Plans
The parenting plan will include the process for resolving disputes upon which the parents cannot agree. It may include the assistance of third parties, such as a mediator or family counselor. Parents must try alternative dispute resolution alternatives before going back to court. If a parent does not live up to the child custody arrangements, the family law court will enforce the law. The offending parent may face fines and imprisonment.
Change in Child Custody
It is common practice for parents to change a custody agreement. As people grow, this includes the parent and child, different requirements may be needed. An agreement can be made between parents, but if the parties cannot settle, then the court must get involved. Before making changes to a custody order, it would be in the best interest of the parents and the child(s) to speak with a professional regarding the decision for change.
De Facto Parents, Grandparents Rights and Third-Party Custody
Other adults involved in the life of the children may also have rights regarding visitation and decision-making. These include grandparents, a non-biological de facto parent and a third-party custodian. These custody arrangements are procedurally complex.
Seek Legal Advice
Developing and enforcing a parental plan requires an understanding of the applicable state laws. It is important that individuals seek legal advice from an experienced family law attorney to ensure their rights the welfare of their children are fully protected.