Determining child custody can be one of the most contentious parts of a divorce. Not only are parents fighting to see their children as much as they can, but they are also often fighting over the related issue of child support. To make matters worse, custody disputes can linger for years if one parent refuses to follow the custody schedule or if the parents revisit the issue by modifying child custody after it is entered. If you are fighting for custody for the first time or seeking to modify child custody, these are the factors courts in Washington consider when determining child custody.
In Washington, there are two parts to child custody. First, is the ability to make decisions about a child’s major life decisions, often referred to as legal custody. The second is the ability of a parent to have a time where a child lives with them in their home, often called physical custody.
Legal Custody – The Ability to Making Major Life Decisions for Your Child
In Washington, courts are allowed to grant sole decision-making authority to a single parent or mutual decisions-making authority to both parents. This authority encompasses the ability to make major life decisions such as where a child goes to school, what doctors are responsible for a child’s medical care, or whether the child will follow a certain religious faith and, if so, which faith.
When courts are faced with determining how to divide legal custody, they must consider the following 4 factors:
- Whether one of the parents has abandoned the child, neglected the child, abused the child, or been convicted of certain violent criminal offenses;
- What is both parents’ history of participating in major life decisions for the child;
- Whether the parents have demonstrated the ability and desire to cooperate with one another in making major life decisions; and
- How close the parents are to one another (if it affects their ability to make timely mutual decisions.
Depending on how a judge weighs those factors, they could award shared legal custody to both parents or sole legal custody to one of the parents.
Physical Custody – The Ability to Have Your Child Live in Your Home
In Washington, courts also have the ability to decide exactly how much time a child spends living with each parent. When making this determination, courts are required to follow a guiding principle of setting a schedule that “encourages each parent to maintain a loving, stable, a nurturing relationship with the child,” consistent with the needs of the child and the circumstances of the parents. Because the needs and circumstances of each parent are different, the actual schedule parents follow can vary widely.
Washington courts also will look at the following factors when determining physical custody:
- The strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent;
- How much each parent has taken care of the child is the past and each parent’s potential to take care of the child in the future;
- The emotional and developmental needs of the child;
- The child’s relationship with siblings or other adults in their life;
- How involved a child is in their school, community, or other activities;
- The wishes of the parents;
- The wishes of the child, if they are sufficiently mature to express a reasonable preference;
- Each parent’s employment schedule
Importantly, the first factor, the strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent, is given the greatest weight of all the factors.
If you are fighting for custody of your child, call O’Brian & Associates today. We have been proudly serving the great State of Washington for more than 30 years. We will stand in your corner and fight for your rights as a parent.