How Can I Get Custody of My Children?

Child custody in Washington is determined when a judge approves or orders a parenting plan, which includes provisions deciding which parent will have custody of a child or how the parents will share custody, among other provisions. Note, however, that Washington law does not refer to courts deciding on which parent will have “custody” of a child, but rather what the child’s “residential schedule” will be.

A child’s residential schedule following a divorce or legal separation is determined by a judge, who will consider evidence of a number of factors and then order a schedule that he or she decides is in the best interest of the child. This could result in either parent gaining sole custody of the children, or in some joint custody arrangement.

There are certain circumstances under which a court must limit time or contact with a specific parent. These include things like a history of physical or sexual violence against the children or someone else or convictions for certain crimes. There are also circumstances when a court may choose to limit one parent’s time or contact with children, such as a parent with a long-term alcohol or drug addiction that negatively affects his or her ability to care for children or a parent with a history of keeping children away from the other parent without a good reason. If any of these is true of your spouse, find a way to document their behavior. This could mean taking pictures, keeping a journal, or recording informal statements from others who have witnessed the behavior.

If none of these circumstances is present, the court will weigh the evidence of specific factors, attempting to strike the right balance for the children. These factors include:

  • The strength and stability of each parent’s relationship with his or her children
  • Which parent performs more parenting duties, such as education, supervision, and provision of medical care
  • An agreement between the parents (as long as the agreement was voluntary)
  • Each parent’s work schedule
  • A child’s emotional needs and development level
  • Each parent’s future potential for taking care of the children
  • A child’s relationship with his or her siblings

Many of these factors, with the exception of an agreement, can be difficult to prove in court. But any documentation that you can provide to back up a statement that you are a more involved parent than your spouse could make a difference. This could be as small as enrolling your child in extra-curricular activities and holding onto a copy of the permission slip bearing your signature. Indications of parenting duties like this can often be the deciding factor in a contested parentage case.

If your divorce is preceded by a period of informal separation, moving to a location with excellent schools and a low crime rate, can indicate your future potential to be a good parent, and contribute to winning custody when the final parenting plan is ordered. Further, the parent who spends more time with the children during this period is likely to have temporary custody for as long as the divorce goes on, which could be a significant length of time depending on you and your spouse’s situation.

Finally, it is important to know that a judge will not consider which parent earns more income or whether one parent plans to remarry in awarding custody of children.

If you are working to gain custody of your children or are dealing with a custody case, call the dedicated team at Crouse Erickson today.

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