Snohomish Child Custody Attorney
For couples who have one child or several, deciding to end a marriage will involve working together to create a child custody arrangement. Parents must determine where their children will live and who will be responsible for making decisions for them. While some child custody issues can be resolved amicably through mediation, others may require court intervention. In complex cases, a judge will be tasked with determining what is in the child’s best interests.
At Dabney Law Firm PLLC, we help couples work through a wide range of child custody issues. Washington child custody attorney Walton L. Dabney is dedicated to providing you with sound guidance to protect your child’s future and wellbeing. You can count on him to create a legal solution tailored for you and your family.
What is the Difference Between Child Custody and Parenting Plans?
When parents separate or divorce, one of the most important decisions they must make is deciding how to co-parent their children. “Child custody” is the term commonly used to refer to children’s living arrangements after a divorce. You may be surprised to learn, however, that Washington state uses the term “parenting plan” rather than child custody.
While both serve a similar purpose, the state’s terminology places focus on both parents sharing the responsibility of raising their children rather than the idea of awarding children to one parent over the other. The courts encourage both parents to be involved in their children’s lives. Anecdotally, Snohomish and King county are particularly serious about this. It is a rare case indeed where the court will allow a parent to be completely shut out of a child’s life.
Child custody involves making decisions, both big and small, for your children including where they will live, how they will be raised and how much time they will spend with each parent. A parenting plan is a legal document that contains details about how you and your partner will co-parent your children.
Understanding What a Parenting Plan Is
When a couple divorces or becomes legally separated, each parent has the right to request a parenting plan and file a proposed parenting plan in court. While parenting plans are unique based on a divorcing couple’s situation, they typically contain the following information:
- The children’s living arrangements;
- How much time each child will spend with each parent;
- Who will make decisions for the children, such as education and health care; and
- How the parents will resolve disputes.
Divorcing parents can develop a parenting plan with the guidance of an experienced Washington child custody lawyer. At Dabney Law Firm, attorney Walton L. Dabney will help you create a proposed parenting plan that meets your family’s needs. With sound legal representation, you can avoid spending unnecessary time in court reworking your parenting plan. Once you and your spouse arrive at an agreement, the court will review and approve the plan to ensure it is in your child’s best interests.
Evaluating a Washington Parenting Plan
In some cases, court involvement may be necessary if you and your spouse cannot agree on a parenting plan. When a divorce is contentious or negotiations stall, a couple may have difficulty finding a child custody solution on their own. A family law judicial officer may ultimately make parenting plan determinations for you; even if neither of you want that parenting plan!
When evaluating a proposed parenting plan, Washington courts prioritize the best interests of the children. The court will consider a wide range of factors, including the childrens’ relationship with each parent, each parent’s mental health, and the stability and location of their homes. The judicial officer will also look at other aspects that could negatively affect the childrens’ welfare, such as a parent’s history of domestic violence, neglect, abuse, drug use or alcohol abuse.
In certain cases, Washington courts may take a child’s preferences into account if he or she is mature enough. However, the judge ultimately decides which parenting plan serves the child’s best interests. Parents must follow the parenting plan until their children turn eighteen; in some cases throughout the child’s post-secondary education (college). Violating the rules may result in legal consequences. Although modifications to parenting plans are possible, they are only permitted in very limited circumstances.
How Parenting Time is Allocated in a Washington Parenting Plan
Unlike other states, Washington law does not use the terms “physical custody” and “legal custody” to refer to parenting plans. However, the concepts are still relevant when trying to understand different types of possible living arrangements.
“Physical custody” in other jurisdiction refers to where a child or children will live until their eighteenth birthday and how much time each parent will spend with them. In Washington, physical custody is often known as a residential schedule. “Legal custody” indicates which parent holds decision-making rights for each child in terms of education, health care and other matters. That is simply called “decision making authority” in Washington.
In many cases, parents will have a shared residential schedule and decision making authority (sometimes called “shared custody”) of their children in some form. However, the court will either name one parent as the primary custodial parent or switch who holds that title from year to year. The concept that one parent is more “parent” than the other is not favored in Washington, but the courts understand that many federal and local rules rely on the concept; so it still exists in Washington. The non-custodial parent often still has rights depending on the details of the parenting plan, which typically includes details about residential schedules and decision-making authority.
Choosing a Primary Custodial Parent When Creating a Plan
The court makes careful considerations when choosing the primary custodial parent. This includes looking at each parent’s work schedule and lifestyle, as well as their childrens’ age, developmental needs and emotional wellbeing. The emphasis, however, is on each child’s relationship with each parent and the roles they have played in the child’s life thus far.
Washington courts encourage co-parenting with the presumption that a child will benefit from having relationships with both parents. As a result, it is rare for a judge to grant one parent “sole custody” of the children. The most common arrangement is “joint custody” in which both parents spend time with the children and share decision-making rights.
There are exceptions, such as cases in which a child’s safety or welfare is at risk. For example, if one parent has a history of abuse or domestic violence, the court may deny the person from having any contact with the children or limit interactions to supervised visitation.
Why Child Custody Arrangements Are Not Always Equal
Child custody arrangements can vary widely. Many couples assume each parent has an equal right to time with their children and that the court will grant a 50/50 parenting plan. However, equality is not guaranteed when determining parenting time in Washington.
Parents may share time equally with their children, or one parent may have the children for more time than the other. Some parents may only have supervised visits; in other cases, children may move from household to household based on a schedule. For example, a child may live with one parent on school nights and transfer to the other parent during certain weekends. Child custody arrangements must also account for holidays and contingency plans in case of scheduling conflicts.
The court’s focus is on making custody determinations that are in the best interests of the children rather than what is most fair to the parents. There may be various reasons for having children live with one parent more than the other, such as where each parent lives, not disrupting their childrens’ school and homework, and whether there is a history of abusive behavior by a parent. A Washington child custody attorney can ensure your rights and the rights of your children are protected when developing a parenting plan.
Why Do I Need a Child Custody Lawyer?
Determining child custody arrangements is not easy, and you are likely to have many questions about how the process works in Washington state. A knowledgeable child custody attorney can address your concerns while helping you understand what to expect.
At Dabney Law Firm PLLC, we understand the stress that child custody issues can cause for everyone involved. You are likely to be concerned about what your post-divorce relationship with your children will be like. We understand that you do not want to face the prospect of losing precious time with your children or control over certain aspects of their life. While most parents want what is best for their children, spouses may disagree on what that means.
A skilled Washington child custody attorney can help you manage the emotionally charged nature of child custody negotiations and ensure they are focused on making the best choices for you and your children. A lawyer can navigate the complexities of child custody laws on your behalf to find a path to a fair, practical and creative parenting plan. If you and your spouse are unable to find common ground, Dabney Law Firm PLLC is willing to take your case to court.
A lawyer can help you deal with special circumstances that may be part of your child custody determinations, such as when a parent is relocating to another area. Additionally, a skilled Washington child custody attorney can also make sure you avoid errors that can result in costly mistakes and wasted time.
Dabney Law Firm PLLC is Here to Help with Your Child Custody Arrangements
Divorce is a complex, emotional process, and you want your childrens’ future to remain secure once you emerge on the other side of it. Washington child custody attorney Walton L. Dabney has the experience needed to assist with your parenting plan. He treats child custody matters with the sensitivity and skill they require.
With Dabney Law Firm PLLC representing your interests, you can avoid the common pitfalls that turn child custody determinations into a messy, contentious legal battle. Your children will not have to endure the hardships of the divorce process longer than necessary. We can also help when the other parent refuses to follow an agreed-upon parenting plan.
Contact Dabney Law Firm PLLC today to discuss your legal options and speak to a knowledgeable Washington child custody attorney. We are available for consultations by appointment. Call 425-488-5809 or send us an email.
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