If you’re going through a Seattle divorce, protecting your children’s best interests is probably high on your list of priorities. You’re not alone. Our clients often report that the impact that divorce will have on their children is one of their primary concerns. For this reason, it’s important to be adequately acquainted with the ins and outs of child custody laws in Seattle.

How is Child Custody Determined in Seattle?

Child custody matters can be stressful—but it’s important to remember that the custody determination in Washington State is designed to help protect the best interests of the children involved.

As such, the courts will do everything possible to keep both parents in a child’s life. It’s incredibly rare for a judge to award full custody rights to one parent. That only happens when the child’s health or safety is in jeopardy or if the custodial parent is reported to be abusing the child.

A well-crafted parenting plan is a crucial foundation for a harmonious co-parenting relationship. In Washington, the parenting plan typically designates one parent as the “primary residential parent” while the other parent gets “visitation time” by default. 

That said, the courts in Washington usually consider the following statutory factors when determining a permanent parenting plan, as defined by RCW 26.09.187(3):

  • The relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent (factor with the greatest weight)
  • The agreements between the parties, provided they were entered into knowingly and voluntarily
  • Each parent’s past and potential for future performance of parenting functions
  • The emotional and developmental needs of the child
  • The child’s relationship with siblings and with other significant adults, as well as the child’s involvement with his or her physical surroundings, school, or other significant activities
  • Each parent’s employment schedule
  • The wishes of the parents as well as the wishes of a child who is mature enough to express independent and reasoned preferences as to his or her residential preferences

Ultimately, the court considers the child’s well-being as the most important factor when making custody decisions.

What Does a Seattle Parenting Plan Include?

Other than outlining who the primary residential parent is, a Washington parental plan also establishes:

  • Where the child lives
  • Which parents hold the decision-making authority
  • How much time either parent spends with the child
  • Who controls choices about education, religion, medical care, and more

In most cases, parents have joint decision-making powers. This means they have to work together to come to a conclusion that’s in the child’s best interest. However, depending on the circumstances, the parenting plan may limit this power in certain areas or across the board. The document will also lay out the specific reason for this.

Type of Child Custody in Seattle

Legal custody

Legal custody gives a parent the right to make day-to-day decisions on behalf of the child, including decisions on schooling and healthcare.

Physical custody

Physical custody awards a parent the right to supervise a child and live with them as well.

Sole custody

Sole custody grants one parent both legal and physical custody. The non-custodial parent may have the right to receive medical or education information, but he or she does not make decisions whatsoever.

Joint custody

In essence, joint custody means each parent receives half of the residential time with the child. This often takes the form of a ‘week-on, week-off’ schedule.

Modifying a Parenting Plan—What it Takes

A parent seeking to modify custody in Washington State must file legal forms with the court, including a “Petition for Modification of Adjustment of Child Custody Decree/Parenting Plan.” The plan should specify what kinds of custody changes the parent is seeking.

However, courts in Seattle rarely grant a modification request unless under special circumstances. For your request to be accepted, you’ll have to prove that a major change has occurred since the original plan was drafted and that a modification would serve in your child’s best interests.

Another factor that might prompt a judge to consider adjusting custody is if one parent relocates abroad.

How Petrelli Previtera Can Help

Nothing is more heartbreaking than a child caught in the middle of a custody battle. Our Seattle child and visitation lawyers are parents themselves, so they understand the joys and rewards, trials and tribulations of parenting. Standing by your side through this trying time is the least we can do.

Our knowledge and skill in the child custody arena is indisputable. We take to trial only those cases in which we believe litigation is the best option. For those cases where trial may not be viable, we will take time to counsel you and diligently work with all parties involved to negotiate a fair and workable custody agreement that’s in your child’s best interests. Whatever option you go with, our promise remains true: doing everything it takes, within the full extent of the law, to bring clarity out of your child custody chaos.

Got questions? We have the answers you’re looking for. Contact us today to schedule your first fully confidential consultation.